The Steampunk Forum at Brass Goggles
May 20, 2018, 03:33:30 pm *
Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.
Did you miss your activation email?

Login with username, password and session length
News: Brassgoggles.co.uk - The Lighter Side Of Steampunk, follow @brasstech for forum technical problems & updates.
 
   Home   Blog Help Rules Login Register  
Pages: [1]   Go Down
  Print  
Author Topic: The New Age of Steam: Maiden Voyage  (Read 900 times)
The Corsair
Defective Inspector
Moderator
Zeppelin Admiral
*
New Zealand New Zealand


PixieOnTheMic
« on: December 06, 2012, 10:37:54 am »

Chapter 1
Ice

In the city dug into the cliffs above Lake Lucerne winter was becoming spring. The ice on the walkways slowly vanished and only the out-of-towners still clung to the handrails as the world grew warmer. Below the cliff districts the rest of the city began to make its way back out onto the water as it shifted its blue from a harsh white-tinged shade to a deeper, glistening colour. Ropemen rappelled in ever increasing numbers down the many levels of the cliff districts, checking for cracks in the rock that had been pried further open by the frost. As their numbers increased, the numbers of Ropemen in the de-icing shifts decreased and slowly they all moved into a new season of work. The air was cold and thin but the city, as anyone could tell you, was alive once more. Malcolm Chevin hadn't rubbed his eyes out of tiredness in weeks.

The last de-icing shift on the Skyrail was a week or so after all the other de-icing work had dried up. There was no such thing as too cautious when it came to the new invention's first peak season. During the winter the trains had floated to and from the lakeside only when factory shifts began and ended but now in spring it would be running non-stop up and down  between the two halves of Lucerne. Malcolm Chevin, short dark hair, round face, thin, average height, was on this last shift, suspended far above the ground by a mass of ropes and clips, scraping away the solid water on the highest stretch of the railway before the 5 am train set off with the first few Factorymen. Malcolm wasn't a Ropeman though, he was an Engineer, a very dedicated Engineer. The mastermind behind the Skytrain. He'd put in hours designing, planning, constructing and, over the winter, de-icing the whole gorgeous project. He knew his invention better than anyone else, down to every rivet.

The Skytrain was perhaps the most notable, and important, project Lucerne had worked on in decades. The freedom of movement between the lake districts and the cliff districts was revolutionary. It would have probably been easy in the Early Times, but that was before the cliffs were settled. The train relied on the new discoveries in lighter-than-air flight, essentially it was an airship that ran on a line of cables so as to avoid the dangers of crosswinds, for which Engineers claimed they would soon have a solution. The train was the first of its kind and, if the peak season went well, the first of many.
The last ice was off by 4:30 and Malcolm scrambled his way up and off the wire with the Ropemen, marching back to their headquarters and turning in his ropes for the last time. The busiest season in the city was beginning, but for Malcolm the hard work was done.

"Happy retirement, Mal m'boy!" Called one of the older Ropemen as Malcolm dumped his ropes in the collection box.

There was meant to be a presentation at the Engineer's headquarters at eight but aside from that he hadn't the slightest need to be anywhere in particular for a long while. It was a pleasant freedom, afforded to few in his line of work, but since he had contributed something of massive importance to the people through his invention, the Skytrain, his guild's law dictated that he was not obligated to do any professional work until he chose to. It was initially written in as a way for Engineers to retire. Someone's life's work would come to completion, the fruits of their labours fully ripened, some brilliant new piece of revolutionary technology would be revealed the Swiss masses and the old genius behind it could live the rest of his life on guild payouts from his invention. Malcolm was far from an old genius though. Some considered him a genius in any case, but even then he was still young and had no wish to retire. He was more than happy to take a break, though, even if only for a few months.

He strode down the worn paths in the rock to his home in the halls where the scholars lived, though he was not a student himself. He let the sweet air envelop him, washing him with waves of the scents of all the early flowers in bloom. Soon the florists would be preparing arrangements showcasing the unique mountain flowers to send down to the lake for the spring festival.

Loveless Malcolm wouldn't be attending, not that that bothered him. It was a celebration for those couples who had survived the winter as a symbol of mankind's ability to survive The Ending, the grand apocalypse that destroyed the Early Times and set the world back to square one. Then there was the long years of hell, according to the few records from the time, where tribe-like organisations were torn between assisting each other for mutual benefit, or slaughtering them for control of impossibly scarce resources. Slowly the land recovered and more food could be grown, and that is why the first flowers of spring were collected, cut, washed and arranged for everyone to admire and enjoy in the parades, even though only the couples can join in the massive parties throughout the week.

The scholar's residences were dug straight into the rock of the cliff beside the older caverns the early settlers had dug, which had themselves become the University of Lucerne. He pushed open the wooden door and entered the short cave behind it. Though it was intended to match the style of the old caverns beside it, the scholar's building was very obviously a more sophisticated excavation project. The surfaces were smooth, with proper micro-tunnels for the elecs wires sitting just behind them, ferrying power around the structure. Brackets for lights had been purpose-built for the solid rock ceiling so that the bulbs sat uniformly above everyone's heads. Door hinges had small cavities housing them so that the doors sat flush with every surface. By comparison the university building was ever so slightly more haphazard. The surfaces had been smoothed, but they were nowhere near as mathematically precise as the residence's. Occasional bumps and dents were common and there were all manner of small alcoves people could stand in when a private word was needed. The lighting was an absolute mess, to say the least. It was considered far too difficult to convert the whole building to micro-tunnelled elecs, so the wires were mostly exposed as they ran across the ceiling like an absurdly labyrinthine spider web. The bulbs were not evenly-spaced as they were in the residences, having been placed simply wherever old torch brackets had been. In the deeper rooms, dug in a time where the caverns were used as the home of a small community rather than as a system of caves survivors hid in, everything was a bit more uniform. The lighting was well-patterned, the corridors were decently straight, the doors were square and there were even some fireplaces with chimneys channelling smoke to up above the frozen peaks. After a time, when those groups of survivors that refused to fight each other heard of the settlers in the cliffs, the population began to grow. The tunnels went deeper, the rooms got bigger, the construction became more sophisticated. It wasn't until the world began to stabilise that the people of the caves emerged and began to develop the cliffside, by which point their community numbered around two thousand people. Those that couldn't stand the elevation and exposure to vertical death-drops made the journey back down the mountain to settle the lakeside, and Lucerne as Malcolm new it took form.

He turned his key in the lock of his room and let the door swing aside, shuffling in as he stuffed his key away in a pocket.

"Take the scenic route, did you?"

Malcolm jumped just a little. He knew the voice. It belonged to his roommate, a tallish blonde man with sharp, sculpted cheekbones and rather piercing blue eyes, the sort that had no trouble with women provided he maintained a mysterious air about himself. That was, of course, where he fell short. He was too fond of talking, though he did have a fairly lush and enjoyably deep voice. It was not a voice he often heard at 5 in the morning.

"Every route's a scenic route up here Douglas." he replied with a tiny sigh travelling along with his words.

He was falling into a deep, contemplative mood this morning and he had no wish to be pestered by his roommate. A pestering was inevitably in order though, he realised as he turned to face his friend. He sat there at the table, already dressed for lectures, with a bottle of champagne and two flutes. Seeing the question on his face, Douglas explained himself with a cheer in his voice.

"I thought we could celebrate your retirement."

"It's a shame there's no Bachelor of Comedy programme for you." he retorted dryly.

"Well I'm having a drink, you're well aware of how hard this sort of beverage is to procure." said Douglas, handily recovering from Malcolm's disinterest.

He was right, too. 'France' as it was in the Early Times was a mess. At the moment it was stable, more so than it had been in a long time, but trade with the Francians was still filled with difficulties. Douglas had a grandfather who was a Senior in the Tunnelman's guild, so there was plenty of inheritance waiting for Douglas when he started his studies, but even then this wasn't the sort of purchase someone made lightly. Another light sigh escaped his lips and he sat down while Douglas uncorked the bottle and poured them each a glass.

"Here's to the genius from Switzerland. May he find his way into many history books." Douglas cheered at him.

"You know, sometimes I want to be remembered, but then I realise it will be history students remembering me and I change my mind" he replied with a grin after they had customarily touched glasses and sipped their drinks.

As per usual, Douglas had found a way to lighten his mood. Not that he was one to be in a mood very often. Douglas, however, was seemingly never in a mood other than happy. The constant upbeat behaviour could grow sickening at times, but for the most part Malcolm was thankful of it. Douglas being happy made him happy, and there was nothing he enjoyed more than happiness.

"You're not planning on putting away too much of this bottle before lectures I hope." he said.

"I got up this early to celebrate with you, I think I deserve at least two glasses." Douglas responded, "In any case, it's the first lecture of the Spring semester, I'll bet they don't cover anything I don't already know about old land vehicles."

Douglas was a history student himself, an Archaeology major. He loved nothing more than finding bits of things from the Early Times and assessing what they might have been and what purpose they served. Admittedly the Archaeologists were great friends of the Engineers, their finds of Early Tech assisting in the rediscovery of many old technologies, elecs being a fine example. It was believed that Lucerne was the first city this side of the Divider's Range to rediscover and install such a thing.

"One day, Douglas, the past will surprise you, I'm sure, and you will soon become a quivering wreck as you ponder on the revelation that men were once apes or something similarly absurd." he mused, staring into is glass as though Douglas wasn't really there.

"One day you'll run out of jokes about history students, I'm sure." Douglas retorted.

"Let's hope by then you've graduated." he closed, raising his glass cheekily before taking a final sip.

He stood and moved to the small kitchen, grabbing snack-based foodstuffs to top himself up after his early shift, calling out to Douglas as he did so.

"I have a guild meeting at 8 and I plan on visiting a Threadman beforehand, so I'll be going in a minute. Seeing as you have no objection to drinking on your own I'll ask that you leave some of that bottle for this evening."
"What's the point of retiring if you don't let yourself enjoy the freedom?"

He wasn't retiring, and Douglas knew it, but of course he was pouncing on the opportunity to poke fun at Malcolm.

"And at that I'm going." he called with finality as he opened the door.

"See you tonight." said Douglas.

Malcolm closed the door behind him, marching back through the halls and out into the slightly less freezing Spring air with a pastry in his hand, finally letting his mind tick over to wondering what the meeting today was about.
« Last Edit: December 08, 2012, 03:17:17 pm by The Corsair » Logged

I think I should also mention I had a dream about this game, only Bailey was a woman...

I assure you, that incident in Singapore was all a misunderstanding.
The Corsair
Defective Inspector
Moderator
Zeppelin Admiral
*
New Zealand New Zealand


PixieOnTheMic
« Reply #1 on: December 08, 2012, 03:20:01 pm »

Chapter 2
Aeronautics

A dozen Engineers, Malcolm in their midst, stood hunched over a large table with papers scattered about it. They were in the main hall of the Engineer's headquarters, a mass of wood and iron which sat suspended below an overhang allowing a breathtaking view of the lake. The view was largely ignored today, the content of the sprawled papers was far more interesting.

"And you have funding?" asked Giorgi, an Engineer in his mid 30's who always knew what those in the room were thinking.

"The Archaeologist's guild expressed interest when I discussed it with their head guildsman and they've agreed to supply most of the funds." replied Markus, the Engineer's head guildsman.

"Most?" asked Giorgi, again capturing the question on everyone's minds.

"The rest consist of a few small donations from wealthier families and organisations. Nothing unusual." Markus replied in his exceptionally level voice once more.

It seemed that after so many years of life, almost a hundred, nothing anyone said caught Markus off guard. There was very little about him to show his age though, he had been bald all his life, having been born a Purple Eye, so there were no grey hairs to suggest old age. His skin was remarkably smooth, again a result of his mutation, and aside from the creases caused by years of conversation he could boast almost no wrinkles. As far as science was concerned, he would live to be older still. The Purple Eye mutation had emerged sometime during or after The Ending and after years of study it was believed everything there was to know about it was known. Carriers of the gene might not have the mutation themselves, so it was difficult to tell who might give birth to a Purple Eye. It was fairly rare, though, with only a dozen or so living in Lucerne. They lived to be very old, often as old as 150, grew no bodily hair and had very tough skin that repaired itself with ease. The changes normally brought about by puberty were somewhat hit-and-miss, with some experiencing most of the normal changes and some experiencing none whatsoever, so a large number were in fact infertile.

"And what are the construction plans?" asked Guildsman Tristan, a small and sharply aged fellow, after a few more moments of quietly poring over the blueprints drawn neatly on the papers they crowded around.

It was perhaps the biggest question on everyone's minds, now that it was understood the costs were covered. The thing was enormous, some 250 metres long, there was no way it could be built in the Engineer's cavern.

"We have secured a warehouse in the lake districts. If we allow this project to go forward then construction will start tomorrow provided. We will be undersupplied on manpower though given that most of the city's men will be returning to full-time Spring work." replied the head guildsman.

Silence again fell until slowly they began to drift away from the table.

"If we are done examining the designs then I would like to call an official vote." Markus said, letting the silence gracefully fall away beneath his calm yet authoritative tone. "Those 'for' may vote now."

Every hand was raised.

"For formality's sake, those 'against' may vote now."

And the silence took over again for a brief moment.

"Now, then, for the more important matter. Who will offer their services for the project?"

And silence invaded in full force. It was a loaded question. Those who lent their time and skills would have to temporarily abandon their own projects, or in Malcolm's case their freedom, until the project was complete, and this looked to be a very big and time-consuming project. Most of the Engineers were working on their own inventions and few of them were young enough to leave them behind, if only temporarily, without risking their comfortable retirement. Those that were young enough, such as Giorgi, had largely been pursuing funding for their own projects. Benefactors were generally difficult to come by and finding them was often the most time-consuming part of a project. Malcolm had been lucky since the factory owners saw the benefits to themselves his invention offered and Frederick, the present project's mastermind, had been similarly lucky in gaining interest from another guild. In short, nobody was overly prepared to give up their life's work for this project, no matter how groundbreaking it was.

The silence hung for too many moments and Markus, sensing Frederick's growing nervousness, chose then to break it tactfully.

"Perhaps we should allow everyone some time to consider the question and ponder the matter. We will hold another meeting three days from now, which will mark the final time at which one of us can express interest. If you wish to express it between now and then you are more than welcome to. Frankly I don't want to bring in junior Engineers to the project, especially without any interest from our longer-standing guildsmen. This meeting is adjourned."

Everyone, save for Markus and Frederick, made for the door. In the main hallway of the headquarters the silence was again broken as the thought of discussing the project became too exciting. Snippets of conversation made their way into Malcolm's ears as he walked with his fellow Engineers.

"... remarkable thing, though. The implications would be enormous..."

"... possible military applications. One has to wonder..."

"... but how long until the Francians take interest...?"

"Say Malcolm, you're one for aeronautics. Do you have any sort of opinion here?" Giorgi asked him.

He hoped Giorgi hadn't asked the question on everyone's mind, he was terrible at addressing crowds, even small ones of familiar people.

"Well," he began as slowly it became apparent he would indeed be speaking to everyone, "It's marvellous." he stammered.

He took a moment to pause and arrange his thoughts into sentences.

"First of all the superstructure means an unprecedented amount of integrity, and I'm slightly annoyed I had not thought of such a thing myself. Then the stabilisers, provided they do work as Frederick claims, could mean he has in fact brought us close to achieving this breakthrough. There would have to be all manner of tests though, and I wouldn't dare to dream that the first one built is entirely successful. I'm willing to wager there's something he hasn't thought of or taken into account, or perhaps something we have yet to discover that could ruin his design. I..." he drifted off, giving way to the expectant silence of the others. "I'm hopeful, but at the same time sceptical, and I'm not usually one for downright cynicism."

"You have to involve yourself in the project then." responded Morton, who had worked with him on the Sky Train. "I must say, there were problems on your own project you predicted that had not even crossed my mind, you have a sense for this sort of thing. Frederick needs you."

"Yes... well..." he began to reply, even though he had really nothing to say.

"Oh, stop by your office. I've left you a parting gift of sorts, to help you enjoy your indefinite hiatus." Morton said, graciously interrupting Malcolm's needless words before turning off to return to his own workstation.

Malcolm stood for a moment, watching the others, before turning around and heading to his office as Morton advised. Upon arrival he noticed a fine looking wooden box. Sliding back the cover he found it contained a single bottle of brandy. It seemed the world was trying to intoxicate Malcolm, and as he left his office he decided he would do as it wished.

*   *   *

He returned to his room only a few short hours after he left, having stopped at a few shops on his way home. Again as he opened the door he found his roommate already there.

"Hello." he said chirpily.

"Someone's lightened up since this morning." replied Douglas.

"Well I've decided to have a proper celebration this evening, so there's plenty to be happy about."

"And what are you celebrating?"

A cheeky smile was spread across Douglas' face as he asked the question.

"My various achievements, which far outnumber yours at this point." he responded with a similarly cheeky look upon his face.

Douglas laughed and responded with a slightly heightened level of good cheer.

"I'll get in touch with the lads then."

"Wonderful. Have them turn up around eight. We'll have a few here then go find a bar."

And he left for the kitchen smiling. There was plenty to be happy about. He was looking forward to a night on the town, he had no work commitments for however long he chose and he had just examined the blueprints for the new world's first long-haul airship.
Logged
The Corsair
Defective Inspector
Moderator
Zeppelin Admiral
*
New Zealand New Zealand


PixieOnTheMic
« Reply #2 on: December 16, 2012, 06:26:22 am »

Chapter 3
Commitments

Eight of them sat around a table, each holding some form of fermented beverage and most talking loudly. The night's momentum had brought them to a busy beer hall in the mid levels of town where tonight Ropemen celebrated the final, official end of the de-icing season, students celebrated the start of a new semester and those with no commitments for the next day celebrated Spring in general.

The eight were the closest friends of Malcolm and Douglas, all upstanding scholars and exceptional drinkers, as was common among Douglas' acquaintances. Roars of laughter rolled about their conversations and good times were being had by all.

Suddenly, as tends to happen on such occasions, it seemed everyone had left temporarily. A few excused themselves to go to the washroom, a few sought out more drinks, a few went to say quick 'hello's to other friends they'd spotted across the room. Two of them were left at the table.

"So Douglas tells me there was some big meeting for you Engineers earlier today, what was the occasion?" asked Henry, the other fellow at the table.

"Well I don't think I'm allowed to say. But I can probably get away with telling you it involves flight without breaking any guild laws." he responded tactfully, enjoying the chance to have a smattering of conversation with his friend, who had spent the time between semesters in the lake districts.

"Flight? So I'm assuming you're coming out of retirement to take part."

"Oh, no, I think I'd like to enjoy my retirement."

"I would suspect they need every Aeronautics specialist they have, though. I'm surprised you're sitting out. In fact, I'm surprised they're letting you sit out."

"Well, I guess a part of me wants to be involved. But I want to enjoy some time off, and I don't think that's such a bad thing. If I'm honest, I would have said yes if they had said they were starting two weeks from now."

"Then why not volunteer on the condition that you still take two weeks off? I'm sure they'd allow it."

"If I did that then I might as well start immediately."

"Then just do that!"

"Well..." he attempted to rebut, again finding himself starting a sentence without having any other words to go in it.

"Would you believe I just earned myself a free drink from winning a wager I'd forgotten I'd agreed to?" yelled Douglas as he returned to the table, bringing an abrupt but entirely necessary end to Malcolm's discussion with Henry.

Suddenly, though, a series of thoughts that had previously been held at bay by the distraction of alcohol but were now aided by its effects bombarded their way through the general haze of his consciousness and now shouted around inside his head, doing their best to ensure they drew attention to themselves.

'When are you going to get a chance like this again?'

'They really do need you, no really, stop being so humble for once.'

'You're only 22, you'll invent something else before you reach old age and you can have your time off then.'

'Most Engineers don't get the freedom you've gained until they're in their 50's.'


And then the worst one. The one that made him feel an incredible amount of guilt, an amount he couldn't explain away with self-justification.

'Frederick is nearly 60. He deserves his retirement. You're robbing him of it.'

He gulped down a large portion of his beer, doing his best to hide the mental berating he was receiving. He found the strength to push the thoughts off to the side, but it was like noticing an imperfection in an object you saw every day. Now that he'd acknowledged it once he couldn't avoid noticing it constantly. He was forced to make a concession. In exchange for silence from his bullying thoughts he would join the project. He had to, it was unjustifiably selfish of him to deny Frederick the fruit of his life's work just because he wanted a week or two off to drink and sleep. He sighed slightly, then re-opened his mind to the conversation around him, letting himself enjoy the evening again.

*    *    *

The next day he found himself stuck between walking with purpose and taking his time as he made his way to his guild headquarters. He settled for an awkward compromise where he marched his way through busier thoroughfares and meandered sheepishly down the side roads through the cliffs. He had made up his mind, but it still managed to stay conflicted. It was in moments like these he found himself astonished that he was in fact the same person that had once had the conviction to rob his parents and run from his home and his country. It was not an action he regretted, not in the slightest. His parents threw their funding behind ever more immoral and unnecessary conquests and it became something Malcolm could not stand for. He found now, though, that he could not rouse the same passion inside himself to make such a bold move. Were he in the same situation now he feared he would simply sit by idle while greedy kings called for further war.

A somewhat different passion had been roused in him by his work though. He quickly found himself pushed into Engineering by a factory co-worker soon after settling in Lucerne where he discovered a love for the work on the forefront of technology. It had never bothered him, either, that the marvellous things he worked on could find further application in war. He somewhat accepted war as a fact of life and only felt a massive moral objection to greed, especially the sort that fuelled needless war.

Emerging from his private thoughts and venturing back into the immediate world he found himself metres from Markus' office. He knocked on the door upon reaching it, taking a moment to re-solidify the thoughts on what he was going to say in his head.

"Come in."

He let the door swing inwards.

"Malcolm, hello. Shouldn't you be enjoying your time off?"

"I fear I can't enjoy it, if I'm honest with you Markus."

"Why is that?"

"I feel Frederick's project needs me, and I would feel wrong denying him his well-earned retirement by not assisting him in working on it."

"You're volunteering yourself?"

"Indeed I am."

"Wonderful news, Malcolm."

Markus seemed as though he were about to add some further comment, but obviously decided it was needless.

"I fear we may have to recruit some juniors for the project, though. Aside from yourself no-one has shown any interest." Markus continued after a short silence. "I will of course give Frederick control over who is brought on to the project, but I would advise that you assist him given that you will be working with these young men and women, though I suppose they will not be much younger than yourself, over the coming months."

"I'll speak with him now, then. Thank you."

"Oh, no, thank you Malcolm. This is a revolutionary thing, this new airship, and I'm hesitant to say that of any invention. I'm glad you're choosing to be a part of it, I would not have been able to remain a sane man if I was forced to see this opportunity pass the world by. I'll see you soon, no doubt. Good day."

"Good day."

He left the room abruptly and travelled to Frederick's office where he found the man reviewing various files, obviously containing information about juniors who had volunteered. He knocked on the open door.

"Ah, Malcolm, come in." said the somewhat elderly man through his bushy moustache. "I'm just reviewing some of the juniors' files. Is there something you wish to talk about?"

"I've just spoken to Markus and I've volunteered myself for your project. I was wondering if you would like my input on which juniors we take on."

If Malcolm had ever seen a man's face light up so brightly he had no recollection of the event. Frederick looked as though he might leap across the room and embrace Malcolm. The old man seemed suddenly young and a defeated expression became a hopeful one as he spoke again, quickly falling back on formality to hide his excitement.

"Oh, yes, wonderful! Yes, input. I'll be interviewing some juniors tomorrow, do come in and join me. Oh, this is wonderful news. Thank you so much."

"I wouldn't have stayed sane had I let this opportunity pass by." he replied, smiling at the older man's displays of glee. "It just took me a little while to realise it." he added. "I'll leave you to your files."

He turned and left, feeling pleased with himself. He let himself enjoy the feeling for as long as possible, ignoring for the time being the absolute enormity of what he had signed himself up for.
Logged
The Corsair
Defective Inspector
Moderator
Zeppelin Admiral
*
New Zealand New Zealand


PixieOnTheMic
« Reply #3 on: December 22, 2012, 07:08:47 am »

Chapter 4
Digs

The lowest peaks of the Lucerne Mountains rolled past outside the windows of the Skytrain as the sun slowly nudged its way above them and into the sky. Malcolm sat among the Factorymen, dressed similarly but noticeably not one of them. His waistcoat was truly the distinguishing piece, denoting his status as an Engineer on a build project due to its blue stripe across the left breast. Three days had gone by with no more senior Engineers offering up their services, so Malcolm sat with no company from fellow guildsmen. Frederick had stayed in the Lake Districts overnight along with the selected junior Engineers, of which there were four. It wasn't many, but it was all Frederick was prepared to take on. Malcolm guessed that the old man wanted as much direct control as possible and didn't like the thought of delegating tasks to the juniors.
The train drifted to a pleasant stop, docking clamps locking in place seconds after. The boarding doors on each train car were hauled open by the station workers and the Skytrain's passengers ambled out onto the platform where they filed their way onto the giant Steam Trucks that took them to their respective workplaces. Malcolm was left to walk, or so he thought. He found himself pleasantly surprised as a small, sleek Steamwheel rolled up to the Automobile Bay beside the platform once the Trucks had gone. A door opened and a suited man stepped out, offering a hand for Malcolm to shake.

"Mister Chevin, Engineer Ziegler sent this car for you. If you'd like to step inside..." he said, gesturing toward the door.

"Thank you. I wasn't expecting a car." he replied as he shook the man's hand and stepped inside, taking a seat behind the driver.

"Well," the man began before cutting himself off by shutting the door. Then the door on the other side of the vehicle opened and the man continued, "He feels the two of you may need to do some amount of travelling about the city. I'm guessing that truthfully his legs are too old and tired to carry him to and from the station."

"Could be the case. Sorry, but, who are you?"

"Mister Mayfield, at your service. I'm a good friend of Mister Ziegler, or Frederick I guess I might as well call him, and this is my car. I'm lending it and my driver to him for the coming weeks."

"Oh." he replied with genuine surprise.

He never really thought of any of the Engineers having acquaintances outside of the Cliff Districts or even the guild, but now he began to realise how ridiculous a presumption that was.

"Thank you for your generosity, Mister Mayfield." he added

"Oh shush, as if I haven't heard enough thanks from the bumbling old man himself." Mister Mayfield replied with a smile.
"How do you know Frederick, might I ask?"

He was simply too intrigued now that his mind had begun to fully consider Frederick's past to not intrude on the stranger's business.

"Ah, well. I guess it's a story for him to tell." Mister Mayfield responded, appearing to speak a little cautiously.

Malcolm's mind began to consider all the insane possibilities of Frederick's past. He was never one to enquire in a prying way about someone else's past given his own, so really he didn't know much at all about the old Engineer he would be spending the next few weeks or months with.

"Well, here we are. My driver will never be too far from the vehicle, though expect that he will take half an hour for lunch. If you wish for him to drive you somewhere for your own lunch then be sure to tell him before his break. Good luck with your build, Mister Chevin."

Malcolm stepped out of the car, thanking Mister Mayfield once more, and entered the factory as the vehicle sped away to drop the mysterious friend of Frederick off at wherever it was he needed to be.

"Malcolm!"

He looked up to see Frederick, a smile on his face, striding toward him with a surprising amount of vigour.

"The staff are arriving in an hour. I've done a tour of the facility with the juniors and am giving them a few moments to get to know each other before we go over the basic schedule and project plan. Would you perhaps like to join us? Or would you rather take a look around the facility yourself?" Said the Engineer.

"I'm sure I'll figure out my way around as I go. I should be there while we bring the juniors up to speed." Malcolm replied.

"Sure, wonderful." Said the old man as they crossed the massive space toward a small array of seats. The juniors shuffled in from a small room attached to the main structure and sat themselves down. There were five.

"Frederick, who is the extra?" he asked as they approached the gathering.

"I'll have to explain later." he replied in a low voice before announcing loudly "Welcome back. This is Mister Chevin, I'm sure you all know. Please draw your attention to the stack of papers you all received, we're going to get into the project plan and, by extension, the schedule.
"We'll be starting off with the superstructure once the materials arrive, which should be a little later today along with our workers..."

Malcolm stopped paying attention to the man's words as he carried on with the induction, choosing instead to focus on the newcomer. It was a youngish girl, though he supposed she could well be not much younger than himself. The most notable thing about her was her eyes. More specifically their colour. She seemed to be, as far as Malcolm could tell from her sheer physical appearance, a Purple Eye. It was remarkable enough that there was another Purple Eye in the city, but what she was doing here specifically was impossibly intriguing. No such candidate had been interviewed, and in fact Malcolm wasn't sure there even was a junior Engineer with Purple Eye. She was not entirely a textbook case either, if there was such a thing with Purple Eye. She had some hair on her head of a deep black colour that reached down to her chin, though it looked as though it had never been cut. She certainly had the shape of a woman, something Malcolm felt slightly embarrassed to have noticed so immediately. She did however have the characteristic pale skin of a Purple Eye and an air of youthfulness about her, which was possibly why he was unable to guess her age relative to his.

"At which point we will be forced to find a solution to the issue of launch. I trust we will have figured something out by then, given we have about five weeks until it will become a problem." Frederick finished.

Five weeks? The schedule had changed, drastically from what Malcolm could tell. He actually took a moment to look at the large piece of paper with the schedule printed on it that Frederick had secured to the wall the juniors faced. The superstructure was to be completed in four days, that hadn't changed, the shell and skin had only five days allowed for construction, then ten days for the engines, of which there were sixteen, then another ten for all the interior work including elecs wiring with the remaining six days for testing. It was a suicidal schedule. No time was available if problems arose for them to be fixed, all the testing would be done at the end rather than as major parts were completed and he had pushed the interior work back from twenty days to just ten.

"We still have a fair while until everything arrives, so if you would like to see the schematics and a few select blueprints then you're welcome to drop into my office for a look. I'll be staying out here for the time being if you have any questions." Frederick added as the juniors all picked themselves up off the chairs and began to chat.

"I have a fair few questions, actually." Malcolm began, turning to face Frederick.

"Allow me to pre-empt a few, if you will. The girl is Alice, and she's not an Engineer. She is, however, a genius, and brave to boot. She's from the English side of Doggerland. Her home was invaded and occupied, and she chose to flee by stealing a Francian airship. I don't know the details of her story, but she's crafty and obviously an amazing pilot. We'll be flying this airship eventually, Malcolm, and we need airmen for that. I think it best that we have one who knows the ship as intimately as possible, so she'll be on the build team over the coming weeks."

"Right. Thank you. That does link quite cleanly to my other question. How on earth do you expect we'll get this thing in the air in five weeks?"

"Malcolm, this is my life's work. I know the true limits of her construction. I pitched the schedule you saw because you're right, the real schedule seems unsafe if not impossible. It would never have been given the go-ahead. This is a revolutionary thing, Malcolm, the longer it sits here unable to fly the more time the Francians will have to hear about it and sabotage it, and perhaps even capture the blueprints. I want it in the air and away from here."

"Switzerland is secure, though. How would they ever destroy this place?"

"They don't need to invade the country just to destroy a factory."

Malcolm began to feel in over his head. It was an enormous project to begin with, but now it felt downright dangerous and he was far from comfortable with it. He had already signed his contract though, there was no opportunity to back out.

"You also mentioned the issue of launch?" Malcolm asked, forcing down his uneasiness.

"We aren't launching off from the mountains, so we have to float upwards while avoiding all obstacles. We need to be able to launch with the direction of the wind."

"Will the stabilisers not help at low altitude?"

"The stabilisers are useless until we are in full flight and everything is running. During launch we simply can't afford to have the stabilising systems running given the fine manoeuvring required to reach a safe flying height."

"So we are hoping that in five weeks' time the wind will be in precisely the direction we need or the airship can't fly?"

"Exactly."
Logged
The Corsair
Defective Inspector
Moderator
Zeppelin Admiral
*
New Zealand New Zealand


PixieOnTheMic
« Reply #4 on: December 24, 2012, 07:12:53 am »

Chapter 5
Wind

It was a Saturday, and a fine one at that.

"Probably some of the better weather we've seen over the Spring Festival..." muttered Douglas as he took a moment's pause from eating his eggs.

"Still a fair breeze though..."

"Malcolm relax. What's this huge problem that keeps you thinking about wind all the time?"

"You know I can't tell you anything about the project."

"Actually you can, the Archaeologist's guild has a stake in this they tell me and they've decided that they want me on the flight. When I get back I'll be made a Senior guildsman. Your project has become my project too."

Malcolm paused, taking in the news with mixed emotions. As he began to speak, happiness became the predominant emotion bouncing around in his head.

"Why wait until now to tell me?"

"I only met with my head guildsman yesterday, and I felt the first Saturday of the Spring Festival was a good time to pass on the news."

"Well what does this mean about your studies?"

"The university would allow me to immediately apply for graduation, that's a given for anyone who becomes a senior guildsman. You know sometimes I forget you're a foreigner."

"Sometimes I forget you're an ass."

"I thought it was good news." said Douglas, bringing the conversation back to his involvement in the project.

"It is, but I can't say I'm impressed with your guild's seeming lack of secrecy."

"I was hand-picked by the head guildsman and I get the impression that he is the only one who knows the details of the project, aside from myself I guess. The rest know that this is something that will benefit our guild and that's all they need to know."

"How involved are you meant to be with construction?"

"Well... I hadn't thought too hard about that yet if I'm honest. I haven't been given any specific instructions, and I daresay I won't be much help during construction, but I figure I should keep tabs on its progress and have a good understanding of its workings. One day this ship will be a significant piece of history and it will be my guild cataloguing that."

"And suddenly you mention history again and I stop being excited."

"You were excited?"

Malcolm rolled his eyes at Douglas, shaking his head with a smile in a way that said 'oh shut up' while Douglas grinned back at him, enjoying his brief conversational victory.

"Anyway, the important thing is I'll be on board with you during the journey. I'm fast becoming your roommate for life." Douglas added.

Malcolm chose not to respond and instead concentrated on the last few mouthfuls of his breakfast, waiting for Douglas to complain his eggs had gone cold.

"What time do you need to be down at the factory?" Douglas asked after a few seconds of silence.

"No time in particular, but I imagine I should be in before eleven."

"Good, plenty of time for a walk."

"Alright, just let me finish my food."

"Ah, yes, I should too."

Douglas took a bite.

"Damn, my eggs have gone cold."

*    *    *

Saturday breakfasts had been a Spring tradition of theirs since Douglas had been a first-year student. Malcolm had decided to use it as an icebreaking occasion given that he had been in the residence alone for two years before Douglas moved in and was eager to establish an amicable relationship with his new roommate. The whole affair went down so well they decided to do it again the next weekend, and the weekend after that, and quickly the whole arrangement ran away with them. They only stopped when Autumn set in and they started preferring warm sleep-ins to early morning treks down the Mountain Road. Even during his work Malcolm made an effort to put the time aside, it had become a hallmark of their friendship and there was something of an unspoken agreement that absolutely nothing except for the weather should prevent it from going forward. When time allowed they would make a day of it, taking walks along the lakeside, fishing on the nicer days, visiting their regular billiard hall, having long lunches with lots of beer. The two of them didn't seem like the sorts that would be friends with one another, but they had taken the time to forge a sense of companionship in one another and that had made them fantastically close. Though he didn't show it, Malcolm was thrilled that Douglas would be aboard the new airship.

"Do we want to take the trail around the South end toward the farm districts?" he asked Douglas.

"Let's go North for once." Douglas replied.

The South trail ran along the shoreline, about 100 metres away from the Great Farm Road where the enormous Steam Trucks that hauled the farmers' produce made their way into the main city. The downside to taking the South track along the lakeside in the early Spring was the constant noise of massive engines and treads churning mud. Malcolm wasn't much in a talking mood though, so he had hoped Douglas would agree to them taking the route that made conversation impossible. The Northern trail was nice enough, and definitely quieter. There wasn't much down there though, aside from a few large estates owned by old Generals and the like. If the water was being used it was only ever for recreational purposes.

After a few kilometres and a very bland conversation about Douglas' studies Malcolm found himself surprised to see a very strange boat-like object out on the water.

"Hold on Douglas, what do you suppose that is?" he said, pointing to the object floating on the water.

"It's a yacht if I'm not mistaken. I sat in on a lecture on old maritime relics a few months back. Think of it as a rowboat with a sheet on it to catch the wind."

"But how could something side-on be catching the wind?"

"Well if we can get closer you'll see it's not entirely parallel with the sides of the boat. I don't understand the mechanics of the thing, and I don't believe anyone outside of England does, but it's certainly using the wind as a source of propulsion."

"Well, clearly someone outside of England does understand its workings."

"Yes, and I'd be fascinated to find out who."

Malcolm enjoyed the return to silence, but now there was a certain tension around their previously uneventful stroll. The English had kept their naval secrets exceptionally well. Even now when they had the steam-powered ships they still kept the secrets of long-distance sailing closely guarded. There were a few around Switzerland that had invented small recreational vessels for use on the lakes, but given the country's landlocked nature it was impossible to experiment with ocean-going vessels. The Francians were too concerned with the land-based transport that kept their empire intact to dedicate resources to any form of navy. It was supposed that the far-away Sinian state in what was once considered to be The Americas had found a way to send boats up and down the coast but descriptions were vague. Only a few had ever crossed the Dividers in the first place, and fewer still had gone all the way to the far side of the Sinian ice bridge.

The craft that sat out on the water ahead of them was larger than the recreational boats, which only had forward-facing sails, and seemed to be moving in a far more nimble fashion.

"I would have imagined that an Aeronautical Engineer would have a bit more knowledge of winds and air currents and the like." Douglas said matter-of-factly.

Clearly it was something that had been bothering him for the last few minutes.

"Well I'm concerned with aerodynamics, how well things can slip through the wind without catching them. It's a fantastically complex thing, wind, and it's surprising we know so little about it when it's around us all the time."

"Well, this person seems to be paying attention to it."

They both stopped and looked out across the water now that they were close and not blocked by trees. The owner of the vessel was still indistinct, distant and androgynous enough to have an indeterminable age and sex. They were remarkable though, knowing which rope to tug and where poles would be swinging so as to pre-emptively dodge them without looking. The crafts was an experimental-looking thing though, some of the movements were awkward and clearly unpractised and it stopped dead in the water for a moment on more than one occasion. It was certainly more swift and agile than an airship, Malcolm realised, triggering a pang of defensive anger.

"If I'm honest, Douglas, I'm beginning to hope that whoever it is in that boat fails miserably."

"Why on earth would you want that? Look at the thing."

"My business is airships and I would hate to find that my life's work becomes irrelevant because breakthroughs are made in oceanic travel."

"Well, you have a head start."

They carried on watching the vessel as it swung its way across the water.

"Shall we get a bit closer?" Douglas asked.

"I don't see why not."

They carried on forward, slower now as they became more and more engrossed with the motion of the craft.

"Douglas," he said suddenly, "I think I might now that person."

"Oh?"

"Her name is Alice, she's on the project team."

"She's an Engineer?"

"No, a pilot."

"Well, she certainly understands the winds."

"That she does..." he said, trailing off.

The craft made something of a final turn, heading toward the small patch of non-rocky shore Malcolm and Douglas now stood on. Suddenly there was a loud cracking sound, followed by a the sound of something ripping. The piece of cloth that the boat used for propulsion fell limp into the water, quickly dragging behind the boat. A rope somewhere went taught and the vessel bucked violently, twisting sideways. A second crack rang out and the boat took on an impossible shape.

"It appears you might get your wish." Douglas said candidly.

Alice was forced off the vessel and into the water where instead of swimming to shore she chose to turn and attempt to salvage the invention. It was a futile effort though, it was too heavy for her to drag by herself.

"I think she'll be needing out help." Said Douglas quickly as he stripped down to his undergarments and rushed into the water.

Malcolm followed him, swimming just a few metres behind. He grabbed the rim of the main part of the vessel, the part that most closely resembled a rowboat, and began to pull it along with one arm while the other splashed in and out of the water in a spastic one-armed freestyle. He didn't know where exactly the other two were or what they were doing to pull the broken vessel but between them all they were managing to get it to shore. The finally dragged it up onto the small beach and let go, leaning forward and heaving in massive breaths.

"Ah, good god that was a mission." Douglas managed while he began putting his clothes back on.

"Thank you so much." Alice replied, sounding exhausted.

It was the first time Malcolm had heard her speak he realised. Her voice was quite hoarse, though he guessed that was largely from physical tiredness. She didn't sound as young as he'd expected, leading him to believe she was closer to her late teens if not older.

"What is it though?" asked Douglas, finally seeming to have caught his breath.

"Well, a sailing ship. I've being trying to make a decent one since I got here."

"Well, that one seemed fairly decent." Malcolm said, slowly getting quieter as Alice passed back over to the boat and kicked it hard, letting out a loud grunt filled with anger and frustration. She stomped on it, snapping a pole along the rim of the vessel, and stomped again, and kicked, and screamed through her teeth, lashing out at the inanimate object. She quickly seemed to tire of the aggression and stood over the wreck breathing loudly, shoulders heaving.

"Are you heading in to the factory now Malcolm?" She asked, all indications of anger suddenly gone from her voice.

"I guess so. Will you walk?"

"Yeah. I need to carry this thing home though." she said, kicking it again lightly.

"We can help, of course." Douglas said.

Alice turned back to the vessel and started lifting a side, Malcolm and Douglas quickly followed suit and they all hauled it up, resting it on their shoulders as they began to walk off the beach. As they turned onto the trail, heading back the way they came, something caught Malcolm's eye. It was a leaf on the water. He watched it as it moved lazily, then suddenly quickly as a gust came along, then change direction with the wind.

"Douglas," he said, "I think I might be a genius."
« Last Edit: December 29, 2012, 06:08:34 am by The Corsair » Logged
The Corsair
Defective Inspector
Moderator
Zeppelin Admiral
*
New Zealand New Zealand


PixieOnTheMic
« Reply #5 on: December 26, 2012, 10:00:00 pm »

Chapter 6
Air

"So where is it you live?" asked Douglas after a few kilometres had passed them by.

"In the city, but I'll drop this in a storage unit first." Alice replied.

They continued to walk in the same level silence they had before. Since the incident on the shoreline none of them had felt a desire to pry in to the lives of each other. Malcolm suspected that Douglas was slightly afraid of Alice after her outburst, though he would never admit it. He was very much non-confrontational and must have felt Alice's anger still sat close below the surface. Malcolm himself just felt no need to ask. If it was necessary for him to find out something about Alice then he would eventually find it out but otherwise there was no reason for him to know. He had no idea what Alice was thinking and a thousand guesses ran through his mind. Perhaps she felt intimidated by these two strangers. Perhaps she sensed that Douglas felt intimidated. Perhaps, and this was something Malcolm felt was more likely to be the case, she wanted time to ponder what had gone wrong and how it could be fixed. It was something Malcolm was prone to do when things he had built didn't work as they were meant to, retreat into silence and pore over the details of the failure. He would analyse the event itself and everything leading up to it, right down to the drawing of the blueprints. More often than not he could find the source of the problem just by exploring his memory and go on to find a solution within his own mind. Douglas knew that when Malcolm came home and sat in silence, not eating, drinking or sleeping, he was inside his own head holding a magnifying glass to his past.

The two boys refused to talk to each other, mutually feeling that it would be plainly unfair to leave the third pallbearer out of the conversation.

"We'll be turning right just up ahead. It's in a bit of a strange place this shed." Alice suddenly said.

They turned and travelled up a path far too narrow for the boat, let alone the boat and three people. They were all forced to free up an arm to shove branches out of the way.

'At least we don't have to worry about not getting the boat scratched.' Malcolm thought blankly to himself, causing a slight jolt of sadness to run through him as he remembered how much work Alice must have put in to the ruined boat sitting on his shoulder.

The trees disappeared after about 400 difficult and slow metres and a small run-down shed sat in a clearing ahead of them, its doors open.

"How did you get it down from here in the first place?" Malcolm asked.

"I had a tiny makeshift cart I wheeled it down on that I put inside the boat, but it fell out when I started sinking." she answered blankly with a small sigh as they finally let go of the pile of wood they had taken far too much care in lowering to the ground.

"If you don't need me anymore I should be getting home, I have a paper to write." Douglas said, obviously feeling relieved that he could excuse himself from the tense situation.

Malcolm and Alice were left staring in silence at the wrecked boat. After a few seconds, she spoke.

"I should shower and change into some dry clothes. We need to be at work soon so you can shower at mine if you want to avoid smelling of lake water all day."

"Um, sure." he managed.

Returning to silence they set off, shutting the shed's old doors behind them. After a few minutes they had made it back to the city and Alice chose to speak again, this time in Anglic.

"You're the first to be around me for this long without asking about Alexandria's Genesis."

"Excuse me?" he said, completely lost as to what she was referring to.

"The eyes and so forth. We call it Alexandria's Genesis in Anglic."

"Are people that concerned about it?"

"Yeah, I know, it's not their business to ask, but they still do."

"Well, it is a scientifically fascinating thing. You can understand their interest."

"Their interest is generally not scientific. Either that or I have misjudged the quantity of scientists in the world."

He didn't respond, he was too unsure of which question he wanted to ask the most.

"They consider me different and want to somehow prove that I'm different enough to be less human than they are." she continued, answering one of his many questions.

"Are you less human?"

"I don't think so."

He fell silent again.

"I will say that the Swiss are at least more tolerant than the English. Until I left I was permanently shunned and regularly beaten."

"That's awful." he said in a textbook tone.

"Yes, but it certainly helped me."

"How would something like that help you?"

"Well, I guess I'm better for the experience. I sometimes think about whether or not I would have left home if I hadn't been pushed aside by my schoolmates when we ran from the Francians, or hadn't been spat on the day before by a stranger in the street, or hadn't been rejected from the military."

"I sometimes wonder if I would have still left if my parents had met the men they sent to their deaths."

"I would hope you would have. It's one thing to send a name to his death but another far worse thing to know a man then send him to die."

"Yes..." he replied blankly.

It was a hollow response, the conversation would not have suffered had he not said the word.

"Sorry, I complain that my mutation isn't the business of others then go ahead and pry into your life." she said.

"Nobody ever bothers prying into my business, except once when I was initiated into the guild and only because it was required. It's a tad refreshing actually."

Not even Douglas knew much about his past, only that he was originally Francian and that he only lived in the scholar's residences because he had bribed the necessary administration staff, which was certainly not something he had a habit of doing.

"Here." Alice said, motioning with a hand toward a narrow street.

About halfway down the street she stopped and procured a key from her trouser pocket.

"Thank God that's still there." she breathed.

"You believe in the old God?"

"It's a figure of speech, Malcolm."

"Hm, always good to learn new things."

The key was turned in the lock of the door before them and they stepped inside the small house. It was built in the old Swiss style, like they were before the Ending. It was small but it must have cost a lot.

"How did you end up with a place like this? Not even I could have afforded such a place when I arrived." he asked, looking down the short corridor to count the rooms branching off it. Three.

"When I landed down it was on the back lawn of an Colonel's estate. He was amazed with my story and decided to put me up here, refusing to let me become a street urchin."

"Lucky."

"Yeah..."

She led him up the thin staircase beside the front door. It curled around onto a landing and he counted two more rooms. Presumably one was a bathroom, so he began guessing which room was which downstairs while Alice disappeared into the bathroom to fetch him a towel.
"Here. I'll be out in a few minutes. You're welcome to make yourself comfortable downstairs while you wait." she said, handing him the towel.
He made his way back to the front entrance and down the corridor that ran parallel to the stairs until he found a sparsely furnished living room. It had just one couch and a small table.

'Living room, kitchen, bathroom, bedroom.' He thought to himself. There was one room unaccounted for, unless she had a spare bedroom. Curiosity got the better of him and he left the tiny living room to examine the rest of the floor. One of the rooms was in fact a kitchen and the other, most interestingly, was a study. He didn't want to intrude on her work, so he instead chose to browse her bookshelf. There wasn't much on it, but he did recognise a volume written by his partner on the Skyrail's construction, The Science of Aeronautics. Alice was clearly an intelligent person, why she had not applied for membership to any guilds was becoming more and more puzzling.

"Malcolm?" she called from upstairs. She had disappeared when he got upstairs, presumably into her bedroom, so he took his shower.

Showering was a curiously Swiss habit, and it was interesting that Alice had picked it up. The showers from the Early Times were discovered by the Archaeologists in New Geneva about a hundred years ago and when their local Medical guild made a statement that their use could help reduce the risk of certain illnesses everyone began having showers installed in their homes. Now they were standard in any bathroom.

"Sorry I don't have any clean clothes you can use." Alice said as he emerged from the bathroom. She had been waiting for him on the landing.

"I'm sure I can manage in these. Perhaps I can visit a Threadman sometime this afternoon if we're working late again."

They left the house without ceremony, choosing to speak again in Swiss, which was essentially mash-up of Francian, Germanic and Anglic. It was generally expected that any resident of Lucerne be fluent in Swiss and Francian, but many more languages were spoken around the city.

"When did you arrive here?" he asked her, feeling it was not inappropriate to pry. They shared slightly similar pasts and he felt, quite unexplainably, that it somehow gave him permission to ask about Alice's life.

"Seven months ago."

"Ah."

He realised then that it had been a pointless question that led the conversation nowhere. Still, it felt somewhat nice to know his co-worker better. Both seemed slightly unsure as to what to talk about after that, so they returned to silence. Obviously the previous divulgence of pasts had been a rare thing for both of them. The silence was broken again by Alice as they turned the corner leading them on to the street the factory lay on.

"I feel I should say that inviting you around for showers won't be a regular occurrence." Alice said, choosing to not add humour to what could have been an amusing sentence.

"I didn't expect it would be." Malcolm responded plainly.

"I felt it was an appropriate display of thanks. The boat may be a wreck but thanks to you it isn't a sunken wreck. For once I have the opportunity to properly examine and analyse one of my failures."

"How many have sunk?"

"A good few. I've been trying to build a boat like the old yachts since I got here. I didn't have the money back home but now that I have the old Colonel pouring funds into my life I'm able to work on my boats to my heart's content."

Again a thousand questions started running through his mind.

"So why haven't you joined a guild?" was the one he chose to ask first.

"I don't want to set myself up in such a way that I cannot leave if I feel the need. I was lucky to have nothing tying me down to my hometown when the Francians invaded."

"Sorry, that was a tad personal."

"Yes, it was."

And at that they had arrived. Malcolm chose to speak with the driver of the car Mister Mayfield had lent him, telling him he would be visiting a Threadman sometime in the afternoon, most likely at four when they were allowed a break if they planned on working into the night, which so far they had done every day. After that was done he turned and entered the factory a safe number of metres behind Alice, letting his earlier revelation by the lakeside dominate his thoughts once more. Immediately he approached Frederick once the day's short briefing was completed.

"Frederick, I have a solution to our launch issue."

"Hm?"

"If the airship has to float out of the factory in the same direction as the wind then what we need is a factory that can move with the wind."

"How would that be made possible."

"While the factory is still light, which would ideally be before the engines are added, we need to move it across on to the lake. If it can float then it can turn to match the direction of the wind."

"That is an amazingly impractical solution, Malcolm. I fear, though, it may be the only way to avoid being sitting ducks until we get the perfect wind. Half of the engines have been built already. Thankfully they have not been mounted yet. If we want to keep our schedule then we will need to begin moving the factory immediately."

They rounded up the Juniors and informed them of the new plan before brainstorming with them how they would move the building, airship inside, on to the water. By the time Malcolm left to find a Threadman who could supply him with a cleaner shirt and trousers they had determined how they would move the factory, found somewhere to build and store the engines before floating them out and begun prepping the factory for movement. Alice was out on the water overseeing the construction of the factory's new floating base. Everyone was moving in frantic excitement, feeling a part of a scientific revolution for the first time since construction started. Malcolm Chevin was a genius.
« Last Edit: December 29, 2012, 06:08:21 am by The Corsair » Logged
The Corsair
Defective Inspector
Moderator
Zeppelin Admiral
*
New Zealand New Zealand


PixieOnTheMic
« Reply #6 on: December 29, 2012, 06:00:24 am »

Chapter 7
Inside

Malcolm climbed out of Mister Mayfield's car for the last time on the 10th of May. He strode to the rear of the vehicle where there was a storage hatch, which the driver opened for him. Reaching inside the hatch Malcolm wrapped his hand around the handle of his suitcase, lifted it out and placed it on the ground by his feet. He stood at the small dock that the project team had been using for the movement of materials out to the floating factory, which had been affectionately named 'The Raft'.

"Please give Mister Mayfield my sincerest thanks. It's a shame he couldn't be here." Malcolm said to the driver who had so diligently ferried him about for the last month.

Douglas reached in the hatch and took out his own suitcase, plus a small bag holding his Archaeological tools.
"Thank you." he said to the driver, shaking his hand.

The driver politely nodded to both of them before turning away and climbing back into the vehicle. As the car sped away Malcolm and Douglas stood silently for a moment, looking out at The Raft.

"Well Malcolm, you may despise history but I think this has secured your place in it."

"I hope, quite selflessly, that Frederick is remembered for this instead of me."

"I think that's the first reasonable argument you've given for not wanting to be remembered for something."

The feeling of tension and nervousness in Malcolm's gut began to melt away as he and Douglas slipped reassuringly into their friendly banter. The two walked forward and stepped down on to the boat that waited for them. Normally such a craft would have hauled cargo far across the lake on the calmest of days but since The Raft had been established it had been repurposed for towing the massive floating platforms that the materials for the project were moved about on. The boat's primitive engine had been worked to its limits and Malcolm had on more than one occasion cursed his country's lack of maritime technology. As the engine powered up beneath him, though, he was enormously thankful for its existence. His insane solution to the project's greatest problem had only been made possible by the hordes of tiny, basic powerboats that had been lent to the project team.

They moved quite slowly, but The Raft was not too far out and they had reached it after a few minutes. They thanked the boat's driver and stepped off with their luggage, looking up at the giant cigar-like vessel before them. All the engines were mounted, every room had been furnished, all the wiring was done, the various windows and portholes had been placed and polished. It was the final day of testing. They would be doing what they had chosen to name 'the float'. The ship would activate its ascenders, fire up its engines and move ten metres toward the factory's exit before powering down and landing. If it went smoothly then tomorrow the factory would be turned about, the giant doors that had been fastened to one end of the factory would be rolled open and the airship would be underway. The name Frederick had chosen for the ship would also be painted on the sides today. It felt like they were in the final stages of dragging an impossible figment of someone's imagination into glorious reality.

The two men, feeling like small boys beside the massive ship, made their way up to the door of the gondola, which hung beneath the vessel's enormous envelope. Nobody was at the bridge for the time being, most were still arriving or were placing luggage in their rooms. The Engineers, Alice and Douglas all shared a room with four bunks, with Alice also having ownership of a small bed in a little room beside the bridge. One of the bunks would be unoccupied. Its intended user was the Junior chosen to stay behind to oversee the construction of the new Skydock, where the ship would land on its return.

They walked up a second set of stairs taking them up into the section of the envelope their room was in. It was the closest to the bridge. Down the central corridor was the room for the crewmen, of which there were seven, the galley and dining hall and the doors in the ship's sides that led to the walkways allowing for engine access. Malcolm felt it was odd that such a massive ship needed such a small crew. One cook, two mechanics, two bridge crew, two deck hands and the seven that made up the build team. Fourteen altogether.
Malcolm and Douglas were the first to place their suitcases on the beds they chose, sitting in silence for the time being while they waited for the day's briefing to be held in the main room down in the gondola.

*    *    *

The workers, crew and Engineers all stood around the main room, eyes fixed on Frederick as he explained the plan for the day. The last of the fuel was arriving in the afternoon, so they wanted the float completed before then. The second the briefing was over everyone marched off to wherever they needed to be without a moment's hesitation. There was a tense feeling of trepidation among them all. Everything had to go as planned, there was no more time for errors. They had made it this far without any significant issues arising, all they needed was this final day to go smoothly.

Malcolm was needed in the stern of the airship, overseeing the test-runs of the stabilising system with Frederick. After that he would be out at the starboard engines for their powering up. During the float he would be on the bridge with Alice and Frederick.

The stabilising system had been tested the day before with a direct start-up and Frederick simply wanted to ensure it could be started from the bridge. It wouldn't be run at full power until they were underway. The testing was done in a few short minutes and Malcolm marched back down the tight walkway between the gasbags toward the main corridor so he could reach the engines. Each side had eight engines. They would only be using two on each side for the float though. Still, the engines were started up one by one and allowed to run for a short while before being mostly shut off, with only the necessary two on each side left running. The complex ascending system was adjusted, and adjusted again, and adjusted again until after a tense half hour they had everything finely tuned and ready for the float. By 10 am Malcolm was standing on the bridge at the front of the envelope, looking out the five massive windows that had been installed the day before. He was in the middle of the factory, high off the ground but still well below the ceiling, and he could see everything. The giant doors ahead of them, still closed, stood now as the only thing between the ship and its coming journey.

"Ascending." Alice stated in an official tone Malcolm had not heard from her before.

They didn't seem to move at all, but slowly Malcolm came to realise they were in fact drifting upwards, metre by metre. The movement was tiny, but Malcolm felt a surge of adrenaline inside him, letting himself become engulfed in an almost childlike excitement. Frederick, who was notably worse at hiding his emotions than Malcolm, was beaming as the ship made its tiny upward motions, looking about at all the details of the bridge around them and the factory outside. He caught Malcolm's eye and grinned at him. Malcolm smiled back warmly, heartened by the old Engineer's youthful enthusiasm. He had seen glimpses of it over the last five weeks as things were completed and fell neatly into place, but now it showed in full force. This was the face of a man who was beginning to live his dream.

"Hold altitude." Alice said, her voice a harsh, emotionless counterpoint to Frederick's glee.

"Engines off idle. Forward." she continued after the ascension had ceased, flicking a series of switches on her wheel's housing as she did so.
Now the motion was more obvious. The floor shuddered lightly beneath them as the vibration of the engines moving to full power ran through the airship. They drifted lazily forward, moving at a safe crawl.

"Slow," she said, again blankly, "and stop."

Another light shudder ran through the airship as the braking system began to work against the ship's inertia, bringing it to a delicate halt.

"Descend."

And the airship drifted lazily downward until it again rested on the scaffolding it had been built on. Frederick clapped his hands a few times, still beaming, as the rest of the build team walked on to the bridge brandishing a bottle of champagne. The cork was popped and glasses were fetched from the dining hall. People cheered and chatted while they had their drinks, knowing the hard work had paid off. The float had gone flawlessly.

"A part of me wishes we weren't celebrating given that we still have the flight ahead of us." said Alice, slipping into the voice Malcolm recognise as she joined him and Douglas.

"I don't see what's so wrong with finding a reason to celebrate. It's a massive achievement, getting this thing built, and the workers won't be with us when we celebrate the journey's completion." Responded Douglas.

The workers all began to leave the airship after a short while with most leaving The Raft and heading out to celebrate. A few stayed behind for the final fuel delivery but as soon as that was done they would be gone too. By the time the sun began to set it was just the fourteen on the flight crew left. It was suggested by one of the mechanics that they all go out for a meal, so they all went to their homes, donned their eveningwear and met at a restaurant by the lakeside that looked out across the water.

They ate and drank, chatting merrily to one another as they acquainted themselves and told their best jokes and stories. Douglas struck up easy friendships with everyone as the night went on. Malcolm knew that his intention in doing so was really to avoid questions of his inclusion on the flight. Every other member of the crew served an active purpose, but Douglas seemed to be largely irrelevant. The reasons for his inclusion were sound enough, but through the eyes of a mechanic they were far less acceptable. If Douglas was well-liked, though, he could still make himself seem like an asset to the crew.

Malcolm spoke more with Frederick and the other Engineers, learning things about them and their personalities that they had been unable to discuss while they worked. He also learned how Frederick knew Mister Mayfield.

"He was an Engineer himself once, only a Junior though, many years before you arrived. In his mid twenties he finally voiced his concerns to me that Engineering was not right for him. He asked to leave the guild and when his request was declined I stuck my neck out for him and asked that he be allowed to leave. In fact, all the Juniors at the time gave him their support and the guild was forced to allow him to leave in peace. He has since become something of a businessman. He owns a good number of the factories that produce steam-powered machines and vehicles. He has always had a fascination with air travel though and, feeling that he owed me in some way, gave us the use of one of his facilities for construction along with a significant amount of funding." Frederick had said to him when Malcolm finally felt it appropriate to ask about the man.

"Is he also funding the Skydock?"

"Oh, more than that. His company is building it. Our Junior is only staying behind so we can ensure it will be made to fit our airship once we return."

"I hope my simple thanks was enough, then."

"It would have been more than enough, Malcolm, believe me."

As it the night progressed they began to leave one by one or in small groups. Malcolm and Douglas caught the last train up to the cliff districts and made their way home. It wasn't until Malcolm lay in bed that the feelings of apprehension began to overwhelm him. After an hour or so of failing to fall asleep he chose to instead take a short walk to clear his mind and let tiredness set in. When he finally returned in the small hours of the morning he found Douglas reading.

"How long have you been awake for?" he asked.

"Didn't sleep." he replied, putting down his book.

They sat in silence, Douglas choosing to pick his book back up. After a few minutes, he set it down abruptly and spoke.

"Malcolm, do you ever feel you might be in over your head with this project?"

"The route seems impossibly long sometimes, but then the ship is designed to handle such a voyage."

"I mean in the sense that you must be aware of how much this will change the world. If any form of mass transit over the Dividers becomes possible it'll only be a matter of time until the Francians invade the Sinian provinces. How do you cope with that sort of knowledge?"

He thought about it for a long while, trying to place his finger on what it was that had kept such thoughts out of his head. Finally he responded.

"I find myself thinking about the good it can do. Imagine what we might find if we can build airships to take us across the ocean. What about the world beyond the farthest Sinian state? There will always be someone who will find an unpleasant application for a new discovery but that's no reason to stop discovering. If the Francians build their own long-haul airships and use them to wage war then that is not the fault of me or anyone involved in this project, it's the fault of the Francians."

Douglas stared into the distance for a short while and Malcolm waited for some sort of response. None came. Slowly Douglas picked up his book again, clearly unable to remove the thoughts entirely from his head and choosing instead to distract himself from them. Malcolm left him alone, lying on his bed sleeplessly until it was time to catch the early train down to the lakeside.
Logged
The Corsair
Defective Inspector
Moderator
Zeppelin Admiral
*
New Zealand New Zealand


PixieOnTheMic
« Reply #7 on: January 03, 2013, 02:13:11 am »

Chapter 8
Launch

As they stood in the Gondola going through the day's almost irrelevant briefing it seemed like none of them had slept. Frederick still had an air of excitement about him but it seemed it was the only thing keeping him going at the moment. Malcolm had a massive knot in his stomach, caused by the knowledge of knowing how long the next few days would be. It was likely a good number of them wouldn't sleep much tonight and he cursed himself for not being able to find sleep the night before, even though there was nothing he could have done about his restlessness. Alice quite possibly had it the worst, she would have to be awake almost non-stop over the next few days as they flew over the mountains and out of Switzerland. She looked slightly more well-rested than everyone else though.

They all drifted off to their necessary stations, Malcolm and Frederick moving up to the bridge with Alice and her co-pilots. Douglas had the luck of not needing to be anywhere in particular, so he excused himself to the bunkroom with the intention of catching up on the sleep they had all lost.

The first two engines were powered up and the ascenders swivelled about into position. They all stood in tense silence while they waited for the factory to be anchored in line with the direction of the wind.

Finally they were aligned and the factory's massive doors were rolled aside. The lake stretched out down the valley before them. They would have to clear the factory then ascend as quickly as possible to avoid being swept straight into a mountainside by any changes in the direction of the wind. The first ten minutes of the flight would be the most dangerous.

"Ascending." Alice stated in the same tone as the day before.

It was a voice that suited her in a way Malcolm couldn't quite explain.

"Hold altitude." she added once they had lifted comfortably clear of the scaffolding.

They hovered there for a few seconds, ensuring they were lined up with the exit.

"Forward."

The airship moved toward the opening, this time with slightly more purpose than the day before. There was no command to slow down and the airship was allowed to gather momentum as the bridge windows cleared the doors and the open sky came fully into view. Malcolm could see Alice whispering numbers to herself as she counted the seconds it would take for the ship to move completely clear of the factory.

"Forty."

She paused.

"Ascend."

They began to rise, sharply. Alice had her hands firmly on the levers that controlled altitude, twitching them back and forth whenever it seemed like the ship might tilt in any direction. The airship stayed almost perfectly level as the space either side of them expanded. At the eighth minute they cleared the first peak.

"Stabilisers on." Alice commanded and one of the two bridge crew flicked two switches on one of the control panels.

Alice relaxed her hands on the levers a few seconds after, only having to worry about the ship tilting forward or backward now. Malcolm was impressed by her absolute control and found it difficult to match the girl sitting at the ship's helm with the girl that had kicked and screamed at her failed sailing boat a few weeks ago. Her face was harsh and serious. He imagined she must have worn a similar face over the months she spent fleeing from her home. Perhaps she ever wore it when she sailed. The amiable, approachable girl Malcolm vaguely knew was perhaps in truth a far more hardened and serious person than he had anticipated. Taking his eyes off Alice he looked around, noticing the last peak left to clear slowly falling away below them.

"Bring engines three and four online."

The dull rumbling that Malcolm had managed to forget about as they lifted off grew a little stronger, though it was soon forgotten again as he adjusted to the background noise. They were moving noticeably faster now, though, with four of their sixteen engines running at full power.

"Hold altitude and switch altitude stabilisers on."

Alice released her grip on the controls, leaving behind an impressive sheen of sweat. She wiped her brow. Out of the corner of his eye Malcolm saw Frederick do the same. Nerves began to settle.

"Bring engines five through eight online."

They picked up speed again.

"Bravo Alice." Frederick said, offering a one-man round of applause.

Alice exhaled loudly. Malcolm could almost hear the release of stress in her sigh. At that point Frederick chose to retire to the bunkroom and he excused himself quietly from the bridge.

"You made it look as though you had done it a thousand times before." Malcolm commented to Alice.

"I have, only the airship was smaller last time." she replied in the voice Malcolm was more familiar with.

They hadn't spoken much since the incident on the lake and it felt nice to have a one-on-one conversation with Alice about something unrelated to building an airship. She relieved both the members of the bridge crew, informing them that they would both need to be present overnight and should get some sleep now. Alice and Malcolm were alone on the bridge.

He stepped forward and stood beside where she sat, looking out the window with her.

"It flies itself, really. Most of my job will be sitting about reading or otherwise passing the time. It sounds so glamorous, flying, but something long-distance like this will always be a long, boring blur of sitting around and occasionally checking instruments. I'll have heaps of free time, but I'll be spending it all here."

"Well it would be exhausting if flying was something you had to actively control and supervise all the time. You have the bridge crew to keep you company too."

"Malcolm, they're halfwits. One of them has flown one airship once and the other is a butcher's son who's here because the ship's cook insisted he was a good lad. Luckily for them an idiot could fly this thing outside of take-off and landing, which I could actually do myself anyway. In any case, they make for terrible company. They've established an easy friendship between themselves and I'm nothing but their boss."

He stood silently for a moment, slightly stunned at Alice's rant. It hadn't crossed his mind that she would be frustrated at her co-pilots. Everything she said was essentially true though, and it was clear that the only reason the two boys that were her bridge crew were needed was so someone could watch the ship overnight. If something did happen to go wrong they would have to wake Alice so she could solve the problem anyway. They were babysitters for the ship. Shipsitters.

"I have a deck of playing cards in my suitcase, We could sit down and have a game." he suggested, motioning toward the low table with a set of couches that sat behind them. It was there for exactly that purpose, so that the bridge crew had somewhere to sit aside from the single chair at the controls.

"You'll have to teach me some two-player games, my family and I only played games for groups of people."

He smiled at her and left the bridge, returning moments later with the cards. It had once been thought that the cards held some significance in Early Times, but as time went by the historians of the world came to realise they were simply for entertainment and suddenly decks stopped being displayed in museums and started appearing in homes as people grew to enjoy the games.

"I shouldn't be leaving the controls." Alice said as she sat down on the couch opposite him. He laughed a little.

"Well, you are."

She laughed a little too and Malcolm dealt out a hand and began explaining a game to her.

*    *    *

When the time for their evening meal came around Malcolm and Alice had played several rounds of several card games, tired of them all, chatted about all manner of things, tired of conversation and had ended up buried deep in one of the books each had taken with them. Alice was forced to wait on the bridge for one of the bridge crew to finish their meal before she could go and eat, but she insisted that Malcolm go immediately and not wait for her. In the dining hall Malcolm found Douglas. He looked far better than he had that morning to say the least. Malcolm could only imagine how ghastly he must have looked given that he hadn't slept for some 36 hours now.

"Sleep well?" he asked.

"Surprisingly yes. I think I was woken briefly by the switch to full power but I must have fallen asleep again fairly quickly. What've you done all day?"

"I sat on the bridge and wished for sleep."

"You couldn't sleep still?"

"No, I... I just... I didn't really feel like I should sleep before it was night. Didn't want to interrupt my sleep pattern."

"It's already fairly interrupted at this point I think."

Malcolm glared at him.

"Though yes, I guess it's good to re-establish it properly." Douglas added.

They ate in silence after that. The meal was a very standard meat-and-potatoes affair. Malcolm reckoned they would be eating a lot of the same over the coming weeks.

"I've thought somewhat about what you said last night." Douglas said after they had finished their meals.

"Mmm?"

"I guess I'm just constantly aware of how dangerous technology got in the past, it was the irresponsible application of advances that caused The Ending after all. But you're right in that there's no reason to avoid making new discoveries. One hopes that if we reach a point where technology applied to weaponry can cause such levels of mass destruction again we will have learned our lesson and avoid a second Ending."

"Do you never think it's a pointless term though, The Ending? Because it wasn't really the ending, we're still here after all."

"But it was the ending of some form of innocence, or at the very least a major era. Humanity is now fully aware of what it is capable of doing to itself if good men sit idle."

"I'm far too tired to continue this conversation I think." Malcolm said, and they sat silently for a few seconds until he stood up and took his plate to the kitchen.

After that he made his way to the bunkroom, changing into his pyjamas while the room was still empty and collapsing onto his bunk, finally falling into a glorious sleep. He dreamed that his parents were building a massive airship to pursue him with, still vainly chasing the lost chunk of their fortune in their shallow-mindedness. They didn't manage to launch safely though, crashing into the ground in a ball of flame. When he awoke the next morning he felt more at peace with his past than he had ever felt before, realising how much it had secretly plagued him. He looked out the porthole at the far end of the bunkroom while everyone else still slept, feeling fresh and prepared for the flight and the future beyond it. He wasn't sure why or how but something within him had settled and Malcolm felt a sense of freedom he hadn't known before as he watched the peaks of the Swiss Alps pass below him.
Logged
The Corsair
Defective Inspector
Moderator
Zeppelin Admiral
*
New Zealand New Zealand


PixieOnTheMic
« Reply #8 on: January 03, 2013, 05:15:40 am »

Chapter 9
Alacrity

"We'll be crossing the border today at around 11 pm, after which point we shall be flying in Francian territory. As far as we are aware we are faster, more agile and can fly higher than any Francian airships but we must still acknowledge the risk that we may be caught off guard. The fact that we are already in the air and the Francian ships would need to take off before they could pursue should keep us safe, though."

Frederick had insisted on doing a daily briefing despite the fact that they all knew the schedule and what was due to occur on any given day. Still, today's did seem at least slightly important. They all knew the risk they were running in flying over Francian territory for some thirty days but none had said it out loud. Now that the words were in the open air the reality of the risk felt more real. It was only a small risk, though, so Malcolm found it easy to keep it from troubling him.

The day itself passed without incident, as did the border crossing that night. As far as anyone was concerned it was all very standard flying. Of course it was in fact very non-standard. No-one since the Early Times had been in the air continuously for this long. The short-range airships could only manage a few hours of flight, with the most advanced being capable of maybe 12 hours at the most. Malcolm recalled his discussion with Alice about their journeys to Switzerland.

"I was lucky to steal a fairly decent ship," she had explained while Malcolm had smiled lightly at the casual use of the word 'steal', "I could do about 6 hours of flying in one go. I had to ensure that my route would give me somewhere to refuel and re-inflate every 6 hours. If there was even a slightly heavy breeze I would have to land immediately no matter where I was. More than once I was stuck out in the open in the middle of the Francian countryside, hoping no-one would spot the glaringly white envelope. Believe me when I say it's a challenge and a half to land without docking clamps."

They had spoken to each other a little about their pasts, explaining them in a very sequential, analytical and unemotional fashion. Malcolm personally felt afraid to discuss it from an emotional standpoint, he wanted to avoid feeling vulnerable by telling her how terrified he was as he ran from a pack of tracking hounds his parents had set on him, or how he had thought more than once about plainly giving up by stopping in a town and waiting for his warrant to catch up with him. He didn't understand Alice's reasoning for staying unemotional in her delivery of her story but he could certainly make guesses. Still, he had noticed during this discussion that aside from her outburst by the lake Alice was a fairly unemotional person. She certainly wasn't completely blank, but she also never exhibited any extremes of feeling. Malcolm certainly experienced some intense emotions, but now he felt unsure as to whether he ever displayed them.

Their discussion had ended less than an hour after they had crossed the border, at which point Alice had woken one of the 'shipsitters' and handed over control so she could sleep and Malcolm similarly retired to the bunkroom.

It was the next day, day 3, their first official day of flying entirely over Francian territory, that something more interesting occurred. As they approached Innsbruck, a city captured by the Francians from the old Austris nation some 200 years earlier, they began their full-speed test. All the engines were brought online, all were slowly ramped up to full power and soon they were doing far more than drifting lazily through the sky. As the Francian city passed below them they hit 160 kilometres per hour, easily an airspeed record. The initial nervousness of flying at such high speeds passed and everyone returned to their regular posts, leaving Alice and Malcolm alone on the bridge again.

"Hold on. We have two ships being scrambled just ahead of us at the Skydock." Alice said, dropping back into her stern pilot-voice.

Malcolm's stomach dropped as he looked out the windows to confirm Alice's claim. He turned and ran from the bridge, down the main corridor running along the ship's spine and toward the room where the stabilisers' internal machinery was housed. He burst through the door, startling Frederick.

"Ships spotted." he proclaimed with some urgency before making his way back to the bridge.

Frederick arrived a short while after and looked out with obvious shock at the Francian flags emblazoned on the envelopes of the ships rising up to meet them.

"We should pass just over them but if they have any form of weaponry we're in trouble. They look small, though, and the smaller ones are rarely equipped with anything dangerous aside from the pilot's handgun."

Alice, who had been forced for the first time to take the helm, was now leaning this way and that to flick witches and pull levers while maintaining her grip on the ship's wheel. They began to rise, though it was in a far more noticeable fashion than in their initial take off.

"I should inform the crew of the situation. They'll no-doubt be wondering why we're rising so quickly. Alice you have permission to do whatever you must to keep us flying." said Frederick as he hurried through the door and away from the bridge.

"They're rising too, faster than us." Alice reported.

They stood in tense silence, Alice making small adjustments of the wheel. They passed above the Francian ships by an uncomfortably small number of metres. Now they were behind them and entirely out of sight. Alice now flew them forward with the confidence that they could outrun the Francians.

"If either of them were armed we would not be so lucky, I think." she said after one of the bridge crew appeared to tell her the Francians had given up pursuing them.

"How many are armed though?"

"I don't know all the classes of Francian ships but the smallest are for scouting and are completely unarmed. In truth it will only be the biggest ones that have a chance of damaging us in a significant way. We'd have to lose a lot of lifting gas for us to have a crash landing and the tiny holes made by, say, machinegun fire would drain us so slowly we would probably still complete the journey."

"So what would it take to bring us down?"

"A lot of machineguns. The Francians aren't equipped to attack anything this big. The most they've ever fought against are the English airships which are just as primitive as their own."

After a few more minutes, when they had completely cleared Innsbruck, they two of them sat down with Malcolm's deck of cards again.

"Were you afraid?" Malcolm asked as he picked up his hand.

"I'm not sure." Alice replied, avoiding eye contact.

"How are you not sure?"

"I think that somehow I must feel things like fear and panic but they don't register in my mind anymore. I always found that they took up needless space in my consciousness whenever I was in a tight spot. I needed clarity, I needed ingenuity, I needed helpful things in my head and those negative emotions like fear and anger simply aren't helpful. I don't think it's possible to stop feeling such emotions, but I don't dwell on them and now I don't even notice their presence."

"But how?"

"Malcolm I understand no more than you do about it. Leave it alone." she said, a hint of the sternness she reserved for piloting in her voice.

He was left wondering, then, what her outburst on the lake had been. Was she even aware it had happened? She must have been, otherwise she would have been somewhat confused as to the state of her boat. Was it the one and only time she had let herself be angry? Why do it when there were people around? He found himself feeling that he suddenly knew less about her than ever despite their lengthy discussion the night before about their pasts. He realised he only understood her in a factual sense. He could tell you the 'what's and 'where's and 'when's of Alice's life but the 'why's were largely unknown to him.

They didn't speak much the rest of the day, or at least didn't talk about anything important. As Malcolm left for the bunkroom Alice did ask him one last question.

"What has Douglas actually done these last few days?"

"You know I actually have no idea." he replied.

When he reached the bunkroom he asked the same question to Douglas himself.

"Slept, ate, panicked briefly. Most of what I'm doing here is being around so I can witness this flight first-hand. I've been writing a brief log about each day but honestly that's the only thing I actively have to do." he answered.

"Could they not stick you with the cook or something then? I'm sure there's more useful things you could be doing."

"Malcolm, there's several different kinds of 'useful'. You're thinking of 'useful' in the immediate sense. I'm thinking of 'useful' in the long run. Believe me when I say that for me the flight is the boring part."

Malcolm chose not to pursue it any further, turning in for the night.

*    *    *

The next day's briefing was ever so slightly different. They went through the standard run-through of where they were on the schedule and were told, as they already knew, they would be passing over the city of Victoire.

"And I hope we can all feel confident in the capabilities of the ship after yesterday's close call." Frederick added at the end of his announcement.

Close call. That was how he chose to express the incident, a close call. Malcolm was certain that had it been a larger ship, as Alice had described, then they would have certainly been in trouble. It wasn't a close call from his perspective, and from Alice's he suspected, they had been lucky. 'I hope we can all feel confident in our lucky streak' Frederick might as well have said. It was the first town they had passed over and there would be many more between here and the Dividers, not to mention the return journey. They could only be so lucky until they had to alter their course or worse.

Douglas stayed back to speak with Malcolm as the crew dissipated, though it quickly became Douglas speaking at Malcolm.

"Victoire should be interesting. I have to say I've always wanted to see it. It didn't exist in the Early Times, you know. The old Austris nation had built it as a capitol when they reconstructed their country after The Ending. The Francians had no trouble conquering the rest of the nation but Victoire, or New Salzburg as it was then, proved difficult to capture. They took it in the end by building a cannon so large it had to be built in the place it would be fired as it would be too big to move into position if it were constructed elsewhere. They renamed it 'Victory', which isn't really the most imaginative name. It's appropriate though, I guess, given that the Austris nation fell after the city had been taken. Still, you think they could have used the Francian word for 'giant cannon' instead."

"Wow, that was enlightening. Thank you. Please never do that again." Malcolm responded dryly, making his disinterest clear.

It wasn't uninteresting in general, though. Malcolm didn't care much for Francian victories but the story was still a good one for any history enthusiast.

As Malcolm and Alice sat down at the couches they had occupied almost non-stop since take-off he spoke.

"I had a thought this morning over breakfast."

"Hm?"

"When I had discussed the tight schedule the airship's construction had been placed under with him he said something along the lines of 'how long until the Francians find out?'"

"You can't help but wonder if they have found out, can you?"

"Yes, exactly. The ships yesterday were in the air somewhat pre-emptively. Now yes, odds are they simply spotted us and scrambled those ships but a small part of me is constantly thinking they only spotted us because they were looking for us."

"Well, that would raise the question of how they knew we were coming. Someone would have had to know our journey plan, which the crew only found out about on the day we left, and have made it all the way to Innsbruck before us, which is impossible."

"Yes, it is, which is why I'm largely dismissing the thought. Like you said, I just can't help but wonder..."

"First to Five Hundred?" Alice asked, bringing the topic over to what card game they would start the day with.

"Yeah, sure."

"I can understand your worry, though. At times I was absolutely consumed with thoughts of whether or not I was being pursued when I made my Journey to Switzerland, given that I had stolen a military airship. Even when you're close to certain that you're fine that little bit of uncertainty still finds a way to dominate your thoughts."

"Yes, somehow the minority is louder than the majority."

"Yeah. And there's nothing you can do but wait until you forget about the feeling of uncertainty."

"I tried so often to distract myself but I constantly found myself conflicted between distracting myself from those thoughts and staying alert in case something happened."

There was a pause, then Alice asked, "Did anything happen? You told me about the hounds and all the other stuff that happened at the beginning but what about later, when it was clear you pretty much home free?"

"It was uneventful. It really was. I almost ran out of food once but all I had to do was turn around and walk to the town I'd avoided a few kilometres back. I had a lot of time to just think, to plan out where exactly I'd go and what I'd do."

"Did you follow through with the plan?"

"The plan was to spend my life working in a factory because I didn't think I had any sort of skills. I'm very glad I didn't follow the plan in the end."

"It's interesting, isn't it? the difference between what you plan and what happens."

Malcolm didn't want to respond. He was in no mood to have a philosophical discussion.

"Well, I guess we were lucky in that our unplanned realities worked out better than our intended ones." he said, ending the conversation.
Logged
The Corsair
Defective Inspector
Moderator
Zeppelin Admiral
*
New Zealand New Zealand


PixieOnTheMic
« Reply #9 on: January 04, 2013, 07:16:11 am »

Chapter 10
Victory

The city of Victoire was certainly a more interesting sight than Innsbruck and as he looked upon it Malcolm gained a small sense of understanding as to why Douglas was looking forward to seeing it. Innsbruck had been fairly nondescript, a smaller version of Lucerne's lake district without the lake. Victoire was, to begin with, much larger. It easily doubled Lucerne in size and had immense walls that looked to be plated with iron. Clearly the Francians had wanted to avoid what they had done with the cannon being done to them. The centre of the city looked to have a series of alarmingly tall buildings, perhaps five stories high based on the clues the surrounding buildings gave.

"It was the first city we know of to use iron beams for support rather than just wood and stone in its buildings. That's how they can make them so tall." Alice said as she got up and stood beside Malcolm.

"How do you know that?"

"I learned some history at school. I'm surprised you didn't know that actually."

"We didn't have to learn history if we didn't want to."

She looked as though she had questions, but obviously decided against asking them as she turned back to the view of the city.

"Do you know how Lucerne discovered the secrets of such building methods?" he asked her, his curiosity strangely piqued.

"Malcolm, it's a building. It's hard to keep a building secret. This was almost a hundred years ago too, discoveries spread."

"Where's Douglas? I would have thought he'd come to the bridge to see the city."

"If he misses it then it's his own fault."

"I'll wait for a bit, then. If he isn't here in about ten minutes I'll go and find him." he conceded.

He was slightly back-footed by Alice's seeming desire to not have Douglas around. Perhaps she felt he would distract her from her flying he guessed, even though there was very little active flying ever done.

"Storm over to the left of us..." Alice mentioned as they looked about at the city and the landscape around it.

"Oh God." she said suddenly.

"What?"

"Ships. Again."

He looked out and saw them. There were three this time and they were noticeably larger.

"Do you think they're armed?" he asked.

"I have no idea and I'd rather not find out." she replied as she leaped behind the wheel, spinning it hard to the left.

"What are you doing?" he cried as the ship lurched sideways.

"The storm!"

At that moment Douglas tumbled through the door, holding on to the handle to stay upright.

"Douglas! We've spotted ships again. Tell the crew." Malcolm yelled across at him.

"Also, please don't panic but one of them does have a light machinegun on its left side." Alice added

"I'll do my best." he replied, dashing back through the door out of the bridge.

"If we can get to that storm then we can get clear of them. I don't know how though so by all means come up with a way for us to survive until we reach the storm clouds." she said in a slightly frantic tone. Her expression was beginning to match the one she'd had on the lakeside when she'd lashed out at her boat.

"Ah, now you're starting to panic." Malcolm pointed out.

"Yes, ok, but a solution now please!"

He pushed all thoughts of panic and imminence from his mind, closing his eyes, wondering what it was that could let them close the gap between them and the storm without being shot, without being spotted. The storm clouds would shroud them, so what was on-board and similar to a storm cloud?

"Ah!" he gasped as he opened his eyes and looked up.

"What?" Alice asked with an urgent hopefulness.

Malcolm was already moving at a run from the bridge again, this time making his way to the room where the mechanics sat when they weren't needed outside at the engines.

"We need to use the emergency coal reserves on the rear engines now." he commanded.

Neither of them questioned him, obviously already aware of the situation and assuming his order was part of a plan. They began grabbing the barrels of coal from the back of the room, barrels they had intended on leaving alone for the whole journey unless they should for some wild reason run out of conventional liquid fuel, and began rolling them toward the door that led them to the exterior. Malcolm rounded up the shipsitters and had them help roll the barrels down to the engines while he himself carried the massive hoppers they would need to attach to the engines' manual fuel line so they could feed the coal in. It only took them a minute or so to have the first barrel on either side being poured into the hopper and soon the engines' exhausts began streaming out thick black smoke. They worked their way through all the barrels they had, filling the hoppers with chunks of coal, before rolling them back to be stowed away. The hoppers emptied themselves just as they reached the edge of the storm and they unsecured them just as they first splashes of rain began hitting the outdoor walkway they stood on. They hauled them inside just as they entered the storm in earnest and rain lashed the ship's envelope.

Malcolm left the mechanics to finish putting the emergency equipment away, making his way back to the bridge.

"I can't begin to explain how afraid I was with you gone off somewhere and a ship waiting for the perfect shot just behind us." Alice said to him as he entered, a notable hint of relief in her voice, "What did you do, though?"

"We used the emergency coal reserves."

"To make us lighter?"

"No, to give us cover. Coal gives off fairly dark smoke when it burns and by burning all our coal at once we made a cloud of it behind us. We blended into the storm."

She was silent for a while after that, offering only 'wow' as a response as she flew them through the storm.

"Did they not fire?" he asked after a long while.

"No, and I can't say I'm sure why. They seemed to know we were coming though, they were definitely already prepared for take-off when they caught sight of us."

"Didn't we talk about that yesterday though? It's impossible for anyone to have told them we were coming, nothing is as fast as us."
"Well what if something is?"

"Then why haven't we seen that?"

She was silent. Malcolm's mind was already set in motion though. What could have moved faster than them without being seen? A land vehicle would have struggled with the terrain, if it had been a train they would have seen the tracks. In the end he had to force himself to banish the thoughts, remembering yesterday how they had talked about how all-consuming that sliver of uncertainty could be. The explanation would be mundane, he was sure. Perhaps they just had a very powerful telescope pointed in the right direction at the right time.

"You reacted very quickly." he said to Alice.

"Thank you."

"If you weren't our pilot I think we might not still be flying right now."

"Thank you again, but I only did the sensible thing."

"Well, I certainly wouldn't have thought of it."

"I wouldn't have thought to use the smoke from the coal to hide us."

She turned to him and smiled. It was a sweet smile that made her face crease in places it clearly didn't crease often. He smiled back for a split second before looking away, focussing on the swirling, churning clouds around them.

"I have to say, the stabilisers are working perfectly." he said.

"I'd been banking on that..."

*    *    *

About an hour had passed since they'd turned back on course. They were still entombed in the storm, which had got stronger the deeper they went into it. The stabilisers had still held them steady but now they were running at full power and the ship had been thrown slightly left or right a few times now. He was beginning to fear the storm might be too powerful for them to contend with. Frederick had arrived on the bridge soon after they'd made the turn back east toward the Dividers and had mainly sat about looking nervous. Alice was able to keep whatever she was feeling from showing on her face but from the sweat collected on the ship's wheel it was obvious she was equally as nervous as Frederick.

"I should go back to the stabilisers. Maybe there's something I can do..." Frederick said abruptly, excusing himself from the room.

"Will he actually be able to do something?" Alice asked him once Frederick had left the room.

"Well, there's a possibility but personally I think it's doubtful. He wouldn't risk permanently damaging them so there's nothing he can do that we haven't already done I'd say."

"I have a plan, but I'd rather not put it in motion unless the situation is dire."

"Well the conditions do seem to be worsening so I dare say the situation will be dire very soon. Could you perhaps share your plan with me?"
"I would try to fly above the storm."

"How high would that take us?"

"High enough to need oxygen masks."

"We were only going to use those for the high altitude test."

"Well we were only going to use the coal for an emergency."

"Fair point." he conceded.

They were silent again and the silence grew more tense with every gust. The storm was definitely becoming too strong for them to fly through.

"We have to make a decision now, I think." he finally said after a particularly violent gust threw them about.

"Get a mask and canister to everyone on board. Tell them to put them on immediately. I'll start ascending in three minutes." she commanded, slipping back in to her pilot-voice.

Malcolm set off at a run from the bridge for the second time that day, making his way to the bunkroom where he found Douglas with the three Juniors.

"We're going into high altitude. Everyone needs to put an oxygen mask on. We have three minutes. Follow me now." he ordered.

They headed for the storeroom where the oxygen canisters were held. Once there Malcolm passed one to each of them, then got them all to carry one each to someone else on board while he gathered the remaining crew in the storeroom. After only two minutes everyone had a mask save for Malcolm and Alice. He picked up two of the canvas bags the canisters were held in and sprinted toward the bridge, feeling the telltale tremor of the ship's ascenders kicking in as he ran. Bursting on to the bridge he dropped one of the bags on the floor and carried the other to Alice so he could secure the mask to her face without having her take her hands off the wheel. Noticing the air grow thinner, he took a deep breath and walked as calmly as he could back to the canister for him. He kneeled down and undid the straps that kept the bag closed. Once he had lifted the top out of the way he dove his hand into the bag, searching for the rubber and canvas mask. He was growing dizzy and knew he had to take another breath. He exhaled a bit and found he couldn't breathe back in. Panic began to set in and he rummaged frantically, still unable to find even the hose connecting the mask to the canister. Hearing the ruckus Alice turned toward him, screaming his name under her mask when she saw him with his mouth gaping open completely unable to take a breath. He looked at her with dread in his eyes, seeing the alarm in hers as she let go of the wheel and wrestled off the straps of her mask.

"Breath out completely!" she cried out at him.

He let out his remaining breath entirely, finding he was suddenly able to draw in a fresh one despite the thin air. He now took long, slow breaths trying to calm himself back down. At last he was able to reach the rubber hose coiled at the bottom of the bag. He ran his hand along it, feeling excessively dizzy and losing vision around the edges of his field of view. He didn't entirely remember lifting the mask to his face but as his vision cleared and he regained full consciousness he found his hand keeping the mask clamped to his face. He lifted up his other hand and tied the straps around his head, freeing them now to secure the bag shut, lift it up and swing it around and on to his back. He walked with shaking steps over to Alice, leaning over with both hands on the control panel to catch his breath.

When he looked up his breath was taken away again, though not in a literal sense. They were above the clouds and all he could see was the dazzling sun in the light blue above them and the rolling shadows of the storm clouds below them. It was the most purely magnificent thing he had ever seen. He looked back at Alice, her eyes were scanning left and right, trying to see an end to the storm. She seemed to catch sight of something and turned the ship slightly over to the right. Malcolm saw it too now. The angry-looking black clouds faded into soft, calm white a few kilometres ahead now. Alice's eyes caught Malcolm's and he smiled at her. Her mask shifted slightly upward and the small patches of cheek he could see either side of it creased a little. It took him a moment to realise that under her mask she was smiling back. It was the same smile he had seen earlier that day and a small feeling of warmth rose within him as he walked back over to stand beside her. He noticed how incredibly cold it was around them and walked off toward the bunkroom to find their coats, thinking of Alice and the happenings of the day. For a girl that had said she didn't feel things strongly she had displayed all manner of emotions over the course of the day. Then again, Malcolm thought, it most certainly had not been an average day.
Logged
The Corsair
Defective Inspector
Moderator
Zeppelin Admiral
*
New Zealand New Zealand


PixieOnTheMic
« Reply #10 on: January 17, 2013, 04:41:15 am »

Chapter 11
Clarity

They had drifted back down through the clouds, which were now substantially calmer, after only a few minutes of high-altitude flying. Once the masks had been taken off and the bags of canisters stowed away Frederick called the Engineers onto the bridge.

"We need more coal." was all he said.

They stood around, some acting a little bewildered, all silent.

"We would need to buy some." Malcolm stated.

"Good, thank you, Malcolm understands the situation." Frederick responded.

He truly didn't understand the situation. Coal was heavy, and for that reason it was inefficient to fly with. Frederick had decided they would have an emergency reserve of coal long before they had set off in case they ran out of the liquid fuel airships normally used. Malcolm had wondered why they wouldn't simply purchase more liquid fuel should they run low. He also wasn't entirely sure why they would find themselves short on fuel in the first place, they had taken more than was necessary for the journey. He hadn't argued against Frederick based purely off his seniority in age but he had definitely wondered in private whether Frederick was perhaps slightly senile. In any case, it hinted at a certain arrogance in Frederick that Malcolm was simply not prepared to pit himself against.

"We will need to change our course to head toward the south of Lake Scutari where we should be able to purchase a substantial amount of Anthracite." he carried on after a short moment.

"If we make the turn now we can be there in about 20 hours." said Alice.

Malcolm was sure she was aware of how pointless it was to divert their course for coal. Perhaps she too was apprehensive about confronting Frederick, choosing instead to validate his plan.

"Where will we go from there? We'd be wasting conventional fuel if we turned back north to our original course." Malcolm pointed out, attempting to sound as neutral as possible.

He caught Alice's eye as he finished speaking. She seemed to giggle silently, though what she was giggling about was entirely unknown to him. If there were ever an inappropriate time to laugh it was now.

"We will pass overland until we reach the far coast of the North African Sea, then follow that north to the Dividers, crossing the Low Sea. That should keep our fuel consumption within acceptable levels. Our return journey will simply be our old course shifted a few degrees south." Frederick answered.

"That sounds reasonable, but is it worth it to divert our course for coal?" Malcolm asked in return.

"Oh, yes, entirely so!" Frederick chirped.

He was glaring at Malcolm though, it was quite a disconcerting contrast. Malcolm felt a great uneasiness building in his stomach and he was suddenly afraid of challenging Frederick despite his advantage in the physical sense. Perhaps that was what Alice found amusing, in a twisted kind of way.

"Divert course immediately, everyone return to your previous posts." Frederick finished before marching out of the bridge.

His walk was surprisingly energetic and it was the first time Malcolm had seen the old Engineer's inner youth manifest itself in the form of something other than boyish excitement. He acted suddenly like a young general in his prime, commanding his men to march to their deaths, keeping them in line with fear and intimidation.

The bridge was thankfully emptied within a few seconds and Malcolm could talk freely with Alice about what had just occurred.
"You're afraid." Alice said matter-of-factly.

He hesitated for a moment, unnerved by her instant deconstruction of his emotions.

"Well, I expect you are too." he ultimately replied.

"Yeah, I guess." she responded in a similarly blank manner, "It's funny though, how he's so old and frail but nobody is prepared to challenge him." she added.

He had been right, that was why she giggled.

"Thank you for laughing at my discomfort." he responded, slipping into the same manner of speaking he used with Douglas, "In any case, physical power doesn't always determine who is superior."

"It does in war."

"Well we're not at war." he snapped.

She spun her head around to face him, a combination of annoyed and concerned. He realised that was the first time he had been outwardly angry around her, possibly the first time he had been outwardly angry at all since leaving his home.

"Well," she said in a calm but fairly firm tone, "given that we have spent the better part of the flight so far fleeing other ships we might as well be."

"I can't say that's something I really wanted to hear." he said almost sulkily.

"Is it ever?"

The question hung over them. They were silent for a long while, holding eye contact until finally Malcolm looked away and said,
"Sorry. And that was too serious too quickly. Let's stop talking about war please."

"I understand." she replied.

She looked away a few seconds later, concentrating on the sky ahead of them. The course correction had already been made, obviously she intended to give him time to calm down. Did she understand though? She had seen more actual fighting than him. In one sense it would give her more reason to be afraid of the notion of war but it seemed equally likely that it would harden her. Given the calm control she held over herself it would appear she was far less afraid of war than he was. Maybe that's what she understood, that he had every reason to be scared. He looked over at her, wanting to read her expression. She was still turned away toward the windows though and he guessed that even if he could see her face it would betray no emotion.

He left the bridge wordlessly, heading to the dining hall for lunch, thinking of all the things about Alice that somehow were his business. Her plans to build a sailing ship, her story of leaving home, her inability to feel strongly about anything. He forced himself to shut the thoughts out of his mind, he'd had enough turmoil for one day. His emotions were behaving in a pattern he recognised. It was the same series of thoughts and feelings he'd experienced when he was on the run, only now on a different subject. He tried to remember what he had done back then to clear his head, willing himself to emulate the action. He retreated from the world around him for a few moments, concentrating on slowing his breathing. He passed by the dining hall, carrying on to the bunkroom where he collapsed on his bed feeling trapped in the giant airship, unable to walk about and get fresh air. He lay there, staring but not seeing, waiting for clarity.

*    *    *

He had laid on his bed silently for about an hour when Douglas entered the room, catching sight of him and throwing out a casual 'you alright?' in his direction.

"Yeah, the flight is just becoming a lot more... intense than I'd anticipated." he replied, still staring into space above him.

"Well I don't think anyone would have guessed that we'd be spotted by the Francians so frequently. At least we have some peace for now." Douglas said.

"What if we weren't just spotted though? The second time it happened, above Victoire, they seemed like they knew we were coming. I keep noticing this growing sense of fear at something bigger. Frederick said to me, back when construction started, that it was only a matter of time until the Francians found out about the ship. What if they know the route plan?"

"Well first of all, if they know the route plan then they won't find us now after the course change. I think it's just coincidence Malcolm, terrifying coincidence."

"Terrifying is the right word. I ran from the Francian authorities alone across half of Europe and I'm more scared now than I was then."

"I'm guessing that's because back then failure meant being taken back to your parents-"

"And imprisoned."

"Right, but alive. Whereas now it would mean going down in a flaming wreck, everyone on board dying and all the flight's data being lost."

"That last one sounds like the scariest if I'm honest. If we crash and die then we'll be dead and there'll be nothing to worry about."

"That's a bit morbid." Douglas interrupted with a slightly puzzled look on his face.

"But it's true. If we lose the flight data and the ship itself then the world goes backwards just a little. People might lose faith in air travel and a ship like this might never be built again."

He finally sat up to face Douglas before continuing,

"In any case, I think we might need to begin exploring the possibility that the Francians know about this flight and are prepared to capture or destroy us. We need to plan ahead for such an eventuality."

"Have you checked with Frederick to see if there is already some sort of contingency plan?"

"No, but he-"

He cut himself off, falling into stunned silence.

"Are you alright?" Douglas asked for the second time today.

"That's it Douglas! That's why he's changing our course! He doesn't care about the coal, he already suspects the Francians know our flight plan and is trying to throw them off."

"Then why claim it's about coal?"

"Spies."

"What?"

"What if there's a spy aboard? If Frederick says 'The Francians know where we're going so we need to change our course' then the spy knows Frederick's on to them and has to take drastic measures. If Frederick claims we're changing our course for coal then we're one step ahead. If the Francians anticipate our movements again now that we've deviated from our original course then we can confirm that there is a spy that has somehow passed the information to the Francians."

Douglas looked at him dead on with a serious look on his face, slowly processing Malcolm's words.

"How would the spy be passing that information on though?" he finally asked after a short while.

"I'm not sure, but the Francians must have invented something that is enabling them to do it."

"And what if they haven't?"

"Then the spy won't be able to tell them about the course change."

"And what if there's no spy?"

Malcolm was quiet for a moment.

"Then good, but how did the Francians know we were coming?"

He got up and made for the door.

"I will say again, it's probably just terrifying coincidence." Douglas said.

Malcolm ignored him and left for the bridge. It could just be coincidence but it was too dangerous to assume that only to be found wrong later on. It was actually safer to assume immediate danger and begin planning for it. Douglas, who had lived his whole life in the safest place in Switzerland, simply didn't understand that. Alice would though.

He re-entered the bridge. Alice tossed out a quick 'hello'. She was lying on one of the couched, reading.

"What if there's a spy?"

"Then how are they telling the Francians where we are?" she replied, slightly exasperated, "Haven't we been over this?"

"I don't think that's the important part though. Let's face it, it's best to assume there is someone telling the Francians where we are and begin planning to accommodate for that."

"How?"

"Is there a way we can avoid major population centres?"

"Without being spotted? No."

He paused.

"Is there anything we can do though?"

"Keep flying and deal with things as they come. React instead of pre-empt."

"It would only be a matter of time until we get caught in a bad spot and go down."

"Then I guess you'll just have to have faith in my flying ability." she said, raising her voice and glaring at him.

She turned her attention back to her book and added,

"You're right though. It's safest to assume someone is telling the Francians where we are but there's little we can do about it. I'm also guessing, after the incident over Victoire, that they don't want to shoot us down and would rather capture the ship whole. That gives us a big advantage in terms of escaping because, basically, we're faster, more agile and can go higher than anything they have. Keep on your toes, Malcolm, because this isn't going to be the simple voyage Frederick had planned on, but don't let yourself panic."

"Right..."

He stood there for a moment, unsure of what to do with himself, before sitting on the couch opposite Alice reading his own book, acting like everything was normal. In the background his mind was desperately trying to figure out who might be the informant. He found himself questioning the extent to which he trusted everyone on board the ship, Douglas included, and it made him uneasy. He soon chose to instead contemplate how they might be informing the Francians, speculating on what sort of technological breakthrough might have occurred and how it was manifesting itself in a way of remotely informing the Francians of the ship's location. He decided shortly thereafter that such a thing was impossible and that he didn't have the slightest clue what was truly going on. There was peace in that thought, in a bizarre way.
Logged
The Corsair
Defective Inspector
Moderator
Zeppelin Admiral
*
New Zealand New Zealand


PixieOnTheMic
« Reply #11 on: April 14, 2013, 01:29:56 pm »

Chapter 12
Business

On the southern shore of Lake Scutari was the town of Shkodra. Douglas had acquired a habit of telling Malcolm all the pointless history behind every city they had flown by and Shkodra, he told Malcolm, was one of the more interesting settlements. Sometime during The Ending the area had been the home of some superweapon that malfunctioned, or so the local legends suggested. The resulting explosion turned a good amount of the surrounding land to anthracite and extended the lakefront all the way down to the old town of Shkodra. In more recent history it had been controlled by the Greek Empire, who had used it mainly as a hub for trade with the rest of the continent. When the Francians conquered the Greek Empire Shkodra's potential was unleashed and now it was the home of a massive mining operation. The land around it was a churned-up wasteland of giant conical pits linked to one another by wide black roads for the hauling trucks, which dwarfed those used by Lucerne's farmers. Finding coal would be no issue here for Frederick's crew. The difficulty would be actually getting to the coal. It was here that Alice stepped up to the plate to hatch a plan.

"I hate having to do this knowing full well that it's not entirely necessary." Malcolm muttered to Alice as they made their way back to the bridge after a good hour or so of discussing, arguing and, finally, solidifying their plan.

"You only hate it because you got the hard part."

She was right, his job was certainly the riskiest. They were entirely unsure as to who they could trust, so initially the discussion had been between only Frederick, Malcolm and Douglas. Alice would have continued to be excluded had she not been eavesdropping, waiting for the right moment to enter and reveal she had a more complete scheme. They only had four people available for the job, and Frederick wanted to stay on board the ship. Alice was needed on the bridge in case the traitor was one of the throttle jockeys that called themselves bridge crew. That basically left Douglas and Malcolm to go down to the ground and buy some coal.

'Or steal it' he thought to himself, remembering that their Swiss money might not still be accepted. Given the town's past as a hub for trade they had guessed that their non-Francian currency could still be used to make the purchase but they were taking a massive risk in making that assumption.

"It's a shame really, you would be more suited to my task." he said.

"Well you're not suited to mine, and that's why I get to stay up here." she replied.

He couldn't see her face, but she spoke as though she were smirking. He doubted she actually was though, in the hours that had passed since the high-tension incident above the clouds she had returned to her normal, seemingly unfeeling self. Malcolm wasn't entirely sure which he preferred.

"I'll have us at the drop point in about 10 minutes. You know the arrangement, if you take more than two hours we leave without you. You should go to the gondola now so you're ready." she told him, becoming the stern pilot again.

He left wordlessly, making his way toward the gondola. About half way to the stairs at the back of the bunkroom that would take them down to the gondola he paused, thinking suddenly that he should go back and say goodbye to Alice and Frederick, in case things went badly and they were gone more than two hours. He stood for a moment, torn between the defeatist approach of saying goodbye and the hopeful approach of just leaving and assuming he would come back. He settled on the latter as Douglas came up the stairs.

"There you are. We're almost ready." he said to Malcolm before turning and disappearing back down the spiral staircase.

Malcolm followed him down into the gondola, which he hadn't been in since launch day.

"I've secured the ladder already. Once we come to a stop we just have to open the door, push it out and it should take us all the way to the ground."

"I know that Douglas."

"Yes, but I'm nervous and saying the plan aloud is helping."

"If you're going to do that the whole time then at least say it under your breath."

Douglas didn't respond for a while, and when he did he was pursuing a different line of discussion.

"Are you not nervous?" Douglas asked him.

"Well, yes, probably. I don't feel a sense of nervousness, but I'm still aware of what can go wrong and I am very much afraid of something bad happening. The fear doesn't help, though, when you're trying to get something done."

He certainly hadn't held this mindset in his time in Switzerland, but it also wasn't unfamiliar. Obviously he had somehow tapped into whatever part of his mind had kept him alive when he fled Francia and was letting it assume control of him as he headed into potential danger.

"It should be fine though. We're making a purchase, there's nothing inherently hazardous about that." he added by way of comforting Douglas.
The ship came to a stop. They opened the door and threw the bundled up rope ladder over the edge.

He watched as it unravelled bit by bit until it reached its full extension, jerking about for a moment before settling into a lazy swaying motion, bouncing slightly when the wind caught it.
Malcolm went first. He swung himself around so his back was facing the open air and crawled backwards until one of his legs could swing down and catch a rung. Once his first foot was down he stepped down blindly a few times until he could get his hands on the ladder. From there he could settle into a steady pace, watching his feet as they caught each rung, gradually descending the 30 or so metres between the airship, which Alice was doing a fine job of keeping stationary, and the ground.

"How are you doing that?" Douglas called from a few rungs above him.

"What?"

"Watching your feet without looking at the ground."

Malcolm ignored him, focussing on the remainder of the descent. After a few minutes he was on the ground while Douglas took his last few steps on the ladder.

"That was awful." Douglas breathed as he stepped onto firm ground.

"Well hopefully on the return journey you won't have to look down as much. Anyway, the next step of the plan should be the hardest one."

"Hm."

They started heading toward the nearest road, which they would need to walk down for a kilometre or so until they found the truckyard they had spotted from the bridge. Here they would 'acquire' a vehicle that they would take to the nearest coal vendor so they could haul the purchased coal back to the airship, where Frederick would have set up a pulley system that would allow them to get the coal up from the truck.
They walked in silence until they reached the truckyard. Truckyards were common on the outskirts of cities and trading towns. They provided a place for truck owners to leave their heavy-duty vehicles while they travelled in smaller cars to the main trading areas where they would set up a deal. They would return later with the truck, which could be loaded with whatever cargo they had agreed to purchase. Douglas and Malcolm would be claiming to be traders in a convoy that were headed somewhere else but had run low on fuel, which would mean they wouldn't have time to leave their vehicle in the truckyard.

They entered the front gate of the truckyard. Malcolm looked around, astonished at the lack of security personnel, before spotting a central building which obviously acted as the home and office of whoever owned the yard. Moving to stay out of sight of anyone in the building, the two boys spotted an older-looking truck nearby that they could take without being noticed. Plan A was to simply steal the truck, plan B was to bribe someone with their foreign currency. They were hoping to avoid falling back on plan B.

When they reached the vehicle Douglas climbed the short ladder up to the cabin door while Malcolm went around the back to start up the boiler. When he went back around to the cabin Douglas was picking the door's lock.

"How do you know how to do that?" he asked.

He had expected Douglas would use brute force to get inside, this was a complete surprise.

"The theory behind it is simple, it just takes a bit of practice. I had to get into people's rooms to set up practical jokes somehow."

"Douglas, that is the most ridiculous reason for having a criminal skill I think I have ever heard."

"Heard many?" Douglas jibed, looking down at Malcolm with a grin before turning his attention back to the lock.

"There we are." He added as the lock clicked and he grabbed the door to open it.

"The boiler should be hot enough to give us enough to start the engine with. It'll get better as we go." Malcolm explained as he climbed into the cabin.

Douglas nodded at him, starting up the truck's massive engines. Despite the vehicle's age the engines were not so out-of-date as to require great lengths of time to get started like the first ever steam trucks did. They were underway in just a few seconds, driving noisily past the central building and out the front gate. They turned away from the town when they reached the road so they could loop around and head for the town while seeming like they were intending to escape from it. The truck handled quite nicely, even after they had turned off the road and were driving across open ground. Ten or so minutes later they were back on the road, approaching a smallish mine on the outskirts of Shkodra. They parked the truck and climbed out, readjusting their clothes. They had made a point to dress like trading folk, so the clean, pressed, collared shirts they were accustomed too were nowhere to be seen and instead they wore overalls and plain work shirts. It was the most uncomfortable thing he had worn in his life, and that was saying something given the state of his clothes when he had first arrived in Lucerne.

"Good afternoon gentlemen, is there some way I can help you?" a man a few metres away called to them in Francian.

"Yes, thank you. We would like to purchase some coal for our trading convoy." Malcolm replied as they approached the man, who was dressed in a coal-dust covered version of their own outfits.

"You sound like you came from behind the original Francian borders, no wonder you ran out of fuel if you've travelled this far. How much will you need?"

"A dozen standard barrels of anthracite, if possible."

"It certainly is possible, but that is quite a hefty amount, are you sure your old steamer can manage it?"

"Ahh, she's a reliable vehicle, certainly carried heavier loads in her time. Our trading haul is back with the convoy too, so we're dead empty." Douglas pitched in.

"Good to know you keep it in good condition gentlemen." the man replied, "My name is Anatole, I've been put in charge of this little mine and I can tell you a sale like this on my books will do wonders for this sad little hole in the ground."

"Well, we're glad we can help." Malcolm replied

"Amazing how we can help each other isn't it? You need coal and I need money. Better than selling fruit like my father did before the Francians came. Where are you two from?"

"Limoux." said Malcolm.

"You've certainly come a long way. What on earth might you be trading in?"

"We'd rather not say. It's, uh, unusual cargo." Douglas said.

"Fair enough, it's not my business to know how you do business." Anatole replied using a translated version of the Greek saying.

The Greek Empire had been known as being exceedingly lenient on trade laws, turning a blind eye to a lot of the activity that went on. It had meant that the cities in the Greek Empire, especially those to the north, had become a place thieves could sell their stolen goods with no questions asked. Though theoretically the Francian government had outlawed such practices most traders still had the old mentality of 'don't know, don't need to know'.

The man led them over to a truck, similar to the one the two of them had stolen, and talked to the driver who then drove away down a ramp dug into the side of the mining pit.

"He's off to our storehouse. Should be back in just a minute or so. How will you gentlemen be paying?"

"Swiss currency, in cash." stated Malcolm.

"Swiss? My Lord, it must be some very unusual cargo. I didn't think the Francians were still trading all that much with the Swiss."

"There's still some agricultural-type trade around the place. Farming equipment mostly, no produce."

"You gentlemen hauling farming equipment?"

"Not exactly. Again, we'd rather not say."

"Alright. 12 barrels is an awful lot, though. Must be one hell of a convoy."

"It is." Douglas said, closing the discussion.

Thankfully the truck sent to retrieve the coal returned at that moment and Anatole signalled something to the driver, who carried on over to the truck Malcolm and Douglas had arrived in.

"They'll load it up for you if you wouldn't mind following me to my office so we can close this deal." Anatole explained.

They crossed to the office, which was essentially a wooden shack that had been built on the edge of the mining pit.

"Do you have papers?" Anatole asked.

"No, sorry."

"No papers, Swiss money, 12 barrels of anthracite. What sort of outfit are you running?" he said.

He phrased it in a very challenging manner. It was in one way a light-hearted statement of surprise but had undertones of being a serious question. Anatole's eyes were locked with Malcolm's, which was definitely a good thing as Malcolm could sense Douglas' growing nervousness which threatened to give them away.

Malcolm chose not to respond, instead taking the large pouch of money they had with them off his overalls and handing it over to Anatole, holding his gaze the whole time. Anatole took the pouch and began counting the coins. After a few tense seconds of counting, he said slowly,
"This covers the purchase quite nicely. I'm afraid I can only provide change in Francian currency."

"That will be fine." Malcolm responded, trying to be firm.

Anatole took a pouch from his own overalls and transferred a few coins over to Malcolm's pouch before handing it back to him, again meeting his eyes in an intense stare.

"Thank you very much sir, and we wish you the best for your future with this mining operation." Malcolm said as he took the pouch from Anatole and turned away, heading back to their truck.

"And thank you both, it was a fine thing to do business with you." he called after them with the traditional trader's saying.

Malcolm and Douglas maintained composure as they walked back to the truck they had stolen and waited until they were out of site of the mining pit before letting out massive sighs of relief.

"He definitely knew something was up. Hopefully he decides it's not worth his while to do anything about it." Douglas said with a nervous laugh.

"He'll leave us alone, I'm sure. He got his money."

"He sounded like his sympathies lay more with the Francians than they did with the old Greeks."

"Now you're working yourself up over nothing." Malcolm replied, ending the discussion.

They journeyed back to where the airship dropped them off and waited for it to drop back below the clouds to pick them back up. As soon as it was low enough they attached the first barrel to the rope that now hung beside the ladder, watched it ascend to the gondola and waited for the rope to come back down. They repeated this for each barrel but as they attached the last one they heard the distant hiss of steam being released from a truck's engine. Unable to see the source, the two men began to climb the ladder in panic. About a third of the way up Douglas spoke,
"Malcolm, over there."

He pointed out over the plains in the direction of the road. A truck with a Francian flag painted on its side was approaching. Soon after they spotted it the truck stopped and turned back the way it came.

"What's it doing?" Douglas asked.

"I don't know! Climb!" he yelled up at Douglas, who began frantically scrambling up the flimsy ladder.

It was a challenging climb, and a dangerous one, but they managed to reach the gondola after a few minutes and haul the ladder back inside. The barrels of coal still sat in the gondola, but the two deck hands were carrying them up the spiral staircase one by one so they could be moved with ease down to where they would be stored. Malcolm made his way past them and walked to the bridge, leaving Douglas to return to whatever it was he normally did on the ship.

"How did it go?" Alice asked as he entered the bridge.

"Good, but someone followed us back to the ship it seems."

"We saw. Hopefully it will take them a while to scramble airships and in any case they won't be able to catch us."

"True, but they know where we are now. We're no closer to catching our spy."

"Well, at least we've proven the Francians can find us without being informed by a spy." she responded, finally adding something new to the old discussion of on-board espionage.

"That we have, though I think if anything that makes me more worried."

"Well, at least we're the fastest thing in the sky." she said with a touch of pride in her voice.

"That we are, but how did the truck find us?"

"If I'm honest, Malcolm, I don't really care."

At that she turned the wheel of the airship, swinging them slowly around until they were facing the far away coast that they would follow up to the Dividers.

Logged
Pages: [1]   Go Up
  Print  
 
Jump to:  

Powered by MySQL Powered by PHP Powered by SMF 1.1.20 | SMF © 2013, Simple Machines Valid XHTML 1.0! Valid CSS!
Page created in 0.249 seconds with 16 queries.